A gang of thieves ransacked safety deposit boxes – thought to be worth millions of pounds – in London’s Hatton Garden, but what more do we know about the jewellery heist?
The raid is believed to have happened over the Easter bank holiday weekend at the Hatton Garden Safe Deposit company, with police being alerted to the incident on Tuesday morning.
Jewellers spoke of their shock and raised concerns about security at the building, the centre of the UK’s diamond trade.
Burglars are said to have used heavy cutting equipment to break into the safety deposit boxes – police said a specialised drill was used to bore holes in the vault door.
The burglars disabled a communal lift on the building’s second floor to access the vault, the flying squad said. There is speculation they abseiled down a disused lift shaft from the roof to the vault in the basement.
The vault in question is reinforced with reinforced concrete protection doors that are 2m thick.
A flying squad officer told reporters on Thursday that an alarm had been set off, but there were no indications of forced entry from the exterior. Police are examining CCTV relating to the incident.
Former Flying Squad chief Barry Phillips told Sky News that the heist had been carried out by a “professional team”.
Mr Phillips said that it was likely the gems stolen would already be out of the country. “It was a highly sophisticated crime,” he said.
“It’s highly likely that any gems or jewellery will have already been sourced and out of the country.
It was a highly sophisticated crime. Barry Phillips
“If past jobs of this nature are taken into account, the thieves will have placed all of the jewellery prior to the robbery.
“That takes a high degree of organisation on behalf of the villains.”
There was wider conjecture that an underground fire nearby, which left thousands of people without power and caused travel chaos in central London, may have been started deliberately by the criminals linked to the Hatton Gardens raid.
That seems to me as too much of a coincidence. John O’Connor
John O’Connor, former head of Scotland Yard’s Flying Squad, told LBC radio that he thought the fire was “probably deliberate”.
He said: “I’ve never heard of an outage of electricity like that causing a fire that lasted as long as that. That seems to me as too much of a coincidence.”
However, the London Fire Brigade said its initial assessment showed that the fire was caused by an electrical fault in the Victorian tunnels running below ground, damaging an eight inch gas main which ruptured and fuelled the flames.
A flying squad officer said the London Fire Brigade had found no indications that the cause of the fire was malicious.
Hatton Garden has been at the centre of London’s diamond trade since medieval times and is made up of 300 jewellery businesses and 55 shops – the most concentrated cluster of jewellers in the UK.
The largest company there is De Beers, which dominates the global diamond trade.
According to its website, the company itself is said to have been founded in 1954 and claims to be one of the first companies in the UK to offer safe deposit boxes.
And it is not the first time a robbery has taken place there. Hatton Garden was the scene of one of Britain’s biggest heists on September 11, 1971, after a gang tunnelled into the vault holding safety deposit boxes from a nearby shop. Around £1.5m was stolen, equivalent to £16.5m in today’s money.
Police were alerted to the robbery by a ham radio operator, but despite being warned, failed to realise the fact because the security door was still locked.
Some 70 deposit boxes at the store, mainly used by Hatton Garden jewellers, are thought to have been targeted.
Scotland Yard has not commented on the value of items stolen but one jeweller said some of the boxes were worth up to £2m each.
A Metropolitan Police spokesman said on Wednesday: “This is a slow and painstaking process involving forensic examination, photographing the scene and recovering exhibits in meticulous detail in order to preserve the evidence. Officers anticipate this process to take approximately two days.
“At this stage it is believed that approximately 60-70 safety deposit boxes were opened during the burglary.”
While Former Flying Squad chief Roy Ramm told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that he “would not be surprised” if £200m worth of precious gems, jewels and cash had been taken, although he said the figure would probably never be declared in full.
There’s sort of an old-fashioned audacity about it. Roy Ramm
He said: “There’s sort of an old-fashioned audacity about it and I think you have to look back to 1971 when Lloyds Bank Baker Street was attacked in this way, and back then the value in today’s money would be around £36m (total haul) and they used thermal lances and explosives to gain entry.
“The amount of goods and money taken is never fully revealed … there’s a good chance that not everybody would fully declare.
“I would not be surprised given where this is in Hatton Gardens if £200m is around about the amount stolen”.
Diamond jewellery expert Lewis Malka, who works on Hatton Garden, said that most of the people who have safety deposits there are in the trade.
He added: “I know for a fact that some of my work colleagues have got boxes down there and we are talking about hundreds and hundreds of thousands of pounds in goods.”
Mr Malka said the boxes were used to store both jewellery and loose diamonds in packets. “The police aren’t allowing anyone in yet, so no one is too sure whose box has or hasn’t been touched,” he said. “With the robbers having probably four days over the Easter weekend, there’s a good chance that they went through everything.”