IT WAS billed as the 'crime of the century'. The theft of 6,000 gold ingots worth pounds 26m from the Brink's-Mat security warehouse at Heathrow airport captured the public imagination immediately, and a pounds 2m insurance reward for information further whetted appetites.
The four people convicted at the Old Bailey in the latest trial were among more than 30 charged with offences stemming from the robbery, which has cost millions of pounds to investigate. Yesterday's sentences mark the end of one of Britain's longest police investigations.
One senior detective described it as a 'typical Old Kent Road armed robbery', executed with customary efficiency and ruthlessness. One security guard, who was handcuffed, hooded, doused in petrol and threatened with lighted matches and had a gun held to his head, still suffers nightmares.
'For sheer audacity, cold-blooded ferocity and meticulous planning, it was unmatched,' the authors of a book on the robbery wrote. But it was not a clever crime. Within hours, detectives were pulling at the thread that would lead them to the gang responsible.
Detectives' instincts that it was an inside job proved correct. A security guard, Anthony Black, was questioned and his testimony later secured the convictions of two of the gang - his brother-in-law Micky McAvoy, and Tony Robinson, known as 'the Colonel'. Their 25-year sentences were greeted with laudatory headlines, satisfying many at Scotland Yard.
Matters might have been left there, but Superintendent Brian Boyce, who took command of the Flying Squad in December 1984, a year after the robbery, was not content.
'If a group of criminals have got pounds 26m of gold in their coffers, they have probably got more power than some third world countries. That makes them a very potent danger to our society,' he said. Scotland Yard's new specialist task force, formed to fight organised crime, was brought in to cut its teeth on the case.
One lead pointed to a businessman, Kenneth Noye, being involved. A surveillance operation resulted in a policeman, John Fordham, being stabbed to death in the grounds of Noye's home in West Kingsdown, Kent.
Noye was later cleared of murder, claiming he stabbed the officer 10 times in self-defence, but was jailed for 14 years for his part in masterminding the disposal of the bullion.
Police say half the gold was smelted and sold back to legitimate dealers, including Johnson Matthey, to whom it belonged. Much of it ended up as expensive jewellery. The rest, worth more than pounds 10m, was buried and remains undiscovered.
Noye generated a 'torrent' of money. In four months, one bank handled transactions of more than pounds 10m, mainly in grubby plastic bags, no questions asked. To make it safe for use, it had to be carefully 'laundered' to avoid detection.
John Smith, Deputy Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, said later that the techniques used by the Brink's-Mat team 'indicated how smart career criminals had become'.
Detectives travelled the world to unravel the most sophisticated money-laundering operation they had ever seen. They found the proceeds in the Isle of Man, the Channel Islands, the British Virgin Islands, the Bahamas, Spain and Florida. The inquiry also exposed close links between British, Italian, French, Spanish and American criminals.
Gordon Parry was a key figure in the money-laundering operation. Parry and Michael Relton, a solicitor, disposed of at least pounds 7.6m. Large sums were transferred off shore, via a Bank of Ireland account in south London. At least 170 accounts were opened on the Isle of Man with the cash.
The money then travelled through a series of international accounts before ending up in Switzerland and Liechtenstein. Some was invested in property in London's Docklands boom of the mid-1980s. A portion was used to buy a former section of Cheltenham Ladies' College, which was then converted into flats for sale.
Investigators found one investment, bought for pounds 1.6m, that was later sold for pounds 8m. Another building, bought for pounds 2.7m, was sold for pounds 4.25m. A third deal saw them net pounds 1.75m for a property bought for pounds 750,000. Their downfall came when they bought expensive homes for the robbers' wives. Tipped off, detectives traced the transactions back to the 'Midas men' as the two were known.
Relton was jailed for 12 years in July 1988. Parry escaped arrest in south London by driving off with a detective clinging to his car until thrown off. He went on the run, but was later captured in Spain.
Parry's skills were obtained by Brian Perry, whose daughter lived with Parry's son. Perry is well-known in London's criminal fraternity. He is linked to the Arifs, a south London Turkish Cypriot family involved in serious crimes including drug smuggling and armed robbery.
He made several attempts to provide an alibi for McAvoy but his efforts failed. Perry looked after McAvoy and Robinson's interests after they were jailed. When McAvoy sought to reduce his sentence by offering to help police recover the gold, he negotiated with them through Perry.
But Perry minded his own interests as well as theirs. Above his desk a sign said: 'Remember the Golden Rule. Whoever has the gold, makes the rules.'
McAvoy suspected Perry of spending his share after Perry purchased an expensive house in Biggin Hill. He sent a letter from prison threatening to kill Perry if he failed to return that share.
Perry also stood to gain pounds 3m if Gordon Parry died. When Parry was arrested, rumours spread he had informed. He had not, but a 'hit team' was sent to kill him in Spanish police custody. Scotland Yard persuaded the Spanish to move Parry.
Jean Savage also knew Perry through her former lover, John Lloyd. Both were old friends of Noye, buying their home from him in 1982.
She deposited pounds 2.5m at the Bank of Ireland, Croydon, where Noye had an account under a false name. Noye and Savage would make deposits at the bank on alternate days. The money Savage deposited was transferred to Dublin, where it earned pounds 45,000 in interest a month. Savage left the money untouched for five years, but panicked when Parry was arrested in Spain and tried to move it.
Patrick Clark became involved through his friendship with Savage. Clark banked pounds 3.2m into an account at the Bank of Ireland's Finchley branch and more than pounds 1m at the Ilford branch. He later went to America with Lloyd, but returned and was arrested.
Join our commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies