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Britain's Biggest Heist Case Is On Trial

A Metropolitan Police handout shows the hole drilled in the vault wall during the Hatton Garden Safe Deposit company robbery over April's Easter weekend. Eight men, aged between 46 and 76, were charged with conspiracy to burgle.
Metropolitan Police
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A Metropolitan Police handout shows the hole drilled in the vault wall during the Hatton Garden Safe Deposit company robbery over April's Easter weekend. Eight men, aged between 46 and 76, were charged with conspiracy to burgle.

It may be the most sensational court case in Britain since the Great Train Robbers went on trial in 1964.

Jurors in London have been hearing evidence against four men who are accused of stealing cash and jewelry worth 14 million pounds — about $21 million — from the Hatton Garden Safe Deposit Ltd. last April.

Martin Evans, who's been covering the case for The Telegraph, sat down with NPR's Scott Simon to give an update on the details of the case.

Interview Highlights

On how the alleged burglars pulled off the operation using a power drill

This robbery took place over Easter weekend in April, which is a long bank holiday weekend – a five-day holiday in the UK. All the businesses would've closed for four or five days. And around 8:30 p.m., the alleged gang arrived in a van and started loading equipment in the street.

Now to any passerby, they would've perhaps looked like workmen carrying out some sort of repair work. They gain entry to the fire escape, which is opened for them by an unknown member of the gang, possibly the only member of the gang who hasn't been caught. They then enter the building carrying this quite heavy equipment. They descend through a lift shaft into the basement of this building, where the safety deposit vault is, and then set about drilling through a very thick, concrete wall using a high-powered industrial power unit.

And it does take several hours for them to break through the wall, but unfortunately for them, when they get through the concrete, they come against a metal cabinet which is basically the back of where the safety deposit boxes are housed. And despite having some heavy machinery, they're simply unable to shift the metal cabinet.

So after several hours of attempts, they eventually give up and leave the building empty-handed. Now, less tenacious people might decide to call it a day, but this gang didn't, so they traveled to another part of London where they'd buy another piece of equipment and they return on the Saturday evening, once again gain entry through the fire escape and have a second go. And at this point, they manage to dislodge the metal cabinet, gain entry to the vault, and set about emptying the safe deposit boxes.

On the eight alleged burglars (four men are on trial and another four have already pleaded guilty to conspiracy to burgle)

They're certainly not kids, I mean the gang of eight have a combined age of 485. ... I mean they're no spring chickens, and when you hear what the physical aspects of what they went through to carry out this robbery, it's really quite impressive.

Another very interesting aspect of the case, it's important to point out that the estimated two-thirds of the stash — which is still unaccounted for, it's still missing – but what we do know is that one of the members of the gang, Daniel Jones, who's pleaded guilty, made an offer to the police while on remand that he wanted to come clean and he wanted to own up to what he'd done and tell the police where he had hidden his stash. So he told the police that he'd hidden it in a cemetery in north London under a particular gravestone. The police rather cleverly were suspicious of this and they did their own investigation and discovered a large stash of jewelry under a different cemetery stone and interestingly it was under his father-in-law's headstone. ... I'm not sure how that would've gone down with his wife.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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