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article imageAlleged UK heist gang far from silver-screen glitz

By Jacques Klopp (AFP)     Dec 12, 2015 in Crime

The press has compared the gang alleged to be behind one of Britain's most audacious jewellery heists to the glamorous thieves of Hollywood movie Ocean's Eleven, but the reality is much less sexy.

Rather than George Clooney and Brad Pitt, the group believed to be behind April's daring raid on a London safe-deposit facility includes two geriatrics and a man suffering from incontinence.

A red-haired man known as "Basil", who allegedly let the men into the jewellery vault through a fire escape, has not yet been identified, adding an air of mystery to a story begging for a film adaptation.

The burglary at Hatton Garden, long known as London's jewellery quarter, was the "largest burglary in English legal history" prosecutor Philip Evans said.

Four of the defendants, including the 76-year-old mastermind, have already pleaded guilty, while several others still face trial.

Taking advantage of a long Easter weekend in early April, prosecutors told London's Old Bailey court that the gang broke into the vault of central London's Hatton Garden Safe Deposit company.

A CCTV photo of a suspect in the Easter bank holiday weekend burglary at Hatton Garden Safety Deposi...
A CCTV photo of a suspect in the Easter bank holiday weekend burglary at Hatton Garden Safety Deposit Limited in London is released by police
, MPS/AFP/File

Disguised as gas workers and fitted with hard hats, it is claimed they rappelled down an elevator shaft then used a diamond-tipped industrial drill to bore three large holes in a concrete wall 50 centimetres thick.

Video surveillance recorded the comings and goings as 73 safes were emptied to net a booty worth an estimated £14 million ($21.3 million, 20 million euros) in gold, sapphires, diamonds, jewellery, luxury watches and cash.

- 'Ocean's 11-style' -

The raid was only discovered the following Tuesday.

Appealing for help from the public, Scotland Yard detective Craig Turner said a "particularly ambitious" burglary appeared to have been carried out by an "Ocean's 11-style" team.

As details of the raid crystallised, it became clear that the comparison to the sophisticated Hollywood heist was not entirely justified.

Things did not go as planned from the start, as the thieves took longer than planned to break through the vault's wall, forcing them to bring additional equipment.

Discarded safety deposit boxes in the vault in Hatton Garden  London  where an estimated £200 milli...
Discarded safety deposit boxes in the vault in Hatton Garden, London, where an estimated £200 million worth of diamonds and jewellery were stolen between April 2 and April 5, 2015
, British Metropolitan Police/AFP/File

Alleged mastermind Brian Reader is believed to have ditched the raid on the first night, having arrived at the scene of the crime by bus using a senior's free travel pass.

Court also heard that suspect Terry Perkins, 67, was secretly recorded boasting of having carried out the "biggest robbery" in the world in his bugged Citroen Saxo.

He also mentioned his diabetes and the insulin injections he had to take during breaks in the raid, court heard.

Another alleged gang member, William "Bill" Lincoln, 60, suffers from incontinence and wet himself when arrested, according to police.

- Booty at the cemetery -

Prosecutors claim that they hatched their plan while drinking at the "Castle" pub in Islington, a neighbourhood in North London.

Court also heard that they watched videos on YouTube to learn about drilling techniques.

Police even found a book entitled "Forensic Science for Dummies" at the home of Daniel Jones, 60.

Jones has pleaded guilty to the robbery, and told officers he had buried his loot in a memorial plot in north London, belonging to a relative of his partner.

However, he is alleged to have kept from police that the lion's share was buried next to his father-in-law's grave.

A man leaves the Hatton Garden Safe Deposit Limited on April 7  2015 in London
A man leaves the Hatton Garden Safe Deposit Limited on April 7, 2015 in London
Niklas Halle'n, AFP

Other jewels have turned up in microwave ovens and loudspeakers.

"The plan was to wait until the affair had settled down before converting it to cash," said the prosecutor.

Terry Perkins believed that the booty would fund his retirement, the court head.

"What a beautiful story, it would make a beautiful book," he is alleged to have said before being arrested.

Many grey areas in the case remain.

Two-thirds of the loot has not been found and red-headed "Basil" is still on the loose.

Police are also still establishing why they did not react when the alarm was triggered, giving the robbers a full bank holiday to carry out their plan. They have since apologised for the apparent blunder.

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