The Long Weekend: Reflections on the Hatton Garden Heist

Fleet Street’s not-so-finest dubbed them the “Diamond Wheezers”, “Dad’s Army” and the “Old in the Wall” gang. Nine men aged between 48 and 76 years arrested for their role in the Easter weekend Hatton Garden heist. A cornucopia of clues for those seeking to chart the contours of English culture.

Natalie Clark of the Daily Mail hit upon this stygian fascination with the corrupt and the criminal, the seedy and the salacious:

Not since Michael Caine uttered the immortal line “You’re only supposed to blow the bloody doors off!” in the 1969 movie The Italian Job has a crime of this nature captured the public imagination.

Life imitates art with inspiration for this larceny also attributed to the films Lock, Stock and Two Smoking BarrelsOcean’s 11 (2001 version), Reservoir DogsSexy Beast and The Usual Suspects. My favourite is a letter to The Times from Terry Ballard:

May I recommend that the police check on the whereabouts of the actors Albert Finney and Martin Sheen over the Easter weekend? The plot of the 1981 film Loophole was a template for the recent Hatton Garden burglary – even to the point of being located at nearby Blackfriars and the police not fully investigating the alarm.

Crime scene: the Hatton Garden Safe Deposit Ltd. Not quite a good old-fashioned heist. No evidence of police culpability. Plenty of questions about the competence of the control room for downgrading the response to the burglar alarm triggered in the early hours of Good Friday. Questions too about the reliability of underpaid local security.

Not so much whodunnit, but the telling of the tale. Seems like everyone has something to say. Dominic Lawson remarked disapprovingly:

The Guardian, with a hint of wistful approbation, described the raid as “Return of the old-fashioned heist” and quoted a former armed robber from East London: “Everybody’s happy because everybody’s skint at the moment and they reckon – rightly or wrongly – whoever’s lost something can afford it.”

Think safe deposit, think rich and famous. Or someone with something to hide. Rumours of the ugly Adams family taking a hit. For the second time. Back in 1998 their financial adviser Solly Nahome, a Hatton Garden diamond merchant, was shot dead outside his home. Be afraid if they’ve been tapped, they’re “worse than the Krays”.

Despite Lawson’s later hysterical point linking support for Labour with support for those involved in the Hatton Garden heist, he has a point: the not-so-rich use safes too. Those who can’t afford the necessary insurance. The diamond necklace, a family heirloom, exhumed for special occasions. Or the independent craftsman, sole tradesman and small wholesaler without the means for their own security.

Why the fascination? I’m guilty too. Where lies the allure?

The audacity of the burglary attracts. And the timing was perfect. Immortalized by the press as Mr Ginger, The Gent, Mr Strong, Mr Montana, The Old Man and The Tall Man, the gang is believed to have broken into offices above the Hatton Garden Safe Deposit, abseiled down a lift-shaft and used an array of power and cutting tools to break into the vault.

Given the number of Jewish run businesses operating in and around Hatton Garden, the district was unusually quiet as Easter runs parallel to the Passover festival. The evening of Maundy Thursday and the morning of Easter Sunday frame the time of the burglary. A further 48 hours lapsed before the raid was discovered.

Only 72 safety deposit boxes were broken into. While the gang has been charged with stealing items in “excess of £10 million”, estimates of the proceeds of this heist are as high as £200 million.

Bare facts fuelling speculations that the  burglary was an inside-job. There is no doubting the gang had done their homework. Apart from choosing the Easter bank holiday weekend, this team knew that any noise from drilling would be assumed to stem from the Crossrail excavations or repair work resulting from a power blackout the previous weekend.

Yet the gang would need knowledge of the layout of the building, the dimensions of walls and the nature of the internal security. Was it a coincidence that a number of small businesses recently moved their stock to the vault of the Hatton Garden Safe Deposit following the announcement by the local HSBC branch that they were withdrawing their own safe facilities?

Gaining such local knowledge is fraught with difficulties. Rachel Lichtenstein, a writer with familial links to this district, warns those seeking hidden histories:

On Hatton Garden itself there are over 60 retail jewellery shops. There are hundreds of other small workshops and offices dotted around the area. These places can only be accessed by those in the trade. Dark stairwells lead to tiny rooms above. Security to get into these places is tight. If you are recognized on the CCTV monitor, the first of three steel doors might open; each has to lock shut before the next can be accessed.

Inside these rooms, deals are still often sealed with a handshake and the Yiddish words “Mazel und broche” (luck and blessing). This is the way business has taken place in Hatton Garden for over a century. It is a hidden world that operates according to unspoken laws based on trust. 

Naturally, given the commodities sold, the criminal too has been part of business for over a century. In November 1881, The Times reported that the Hatton Garden post office was robbed of a “mail bag containing the registered letters and packets, among which were large consignments of diamonds for the Continent and elsewhere”. The value of goods lifted was estimated to be £80,000, something in the region of £62 million today.

And this magical place has also played host to the bizarre. A verdict of “suicide while of unsound mind” was returned by the coroner at St Pancras in 1936 on the death of George Gash, a 29-year-old employee of Johnson Matthey and Company, assayers to the Bank of England. Found in an office in Hatton Garden, Gash had shot himself through the brain, twice.

Perhaps some places are cursed more than others. Opened in 1954, the Hatton Garden Safe Deposit suffered an attempted theft by three men involved in the jewellery business in 1957. Armed robbers made-off with £1.5 million worth of gems in 1975, and as recently as 2003 a man who spent many months masquerading as a customer made off with another £1.5 million from the vault. 

Hatton Garden, romancing the stone. Criminality and cosmopolitanism. Blame the foreigner, another English tradition. How disappointing to some that the so-called Pink Panthers or swarthy Slavs don’t appear to have been involved in the Easter bank holiday break-in of 2015. It was our own home-grown shit.

Tom Harper and Kevin Dowling of the Sunday Times were rare amongst their peers with their early observation that the heist of 2015 bore a marked similarity to the theft of £1.5 million (a touchstone number) from a Hatton Garden jeweller over the Christmas bank holiday weekend of 2004. No prosecutions followed, though the latter was believed to have been carried out by a gang operating out of Bethnal Green.

They didn’t hurt anyone. God bless ’em. Probably love their mums too. Like another contemptible concert of criminals from Bethnal Green. Iain Sinclair diagnosed this condition at a funeral cortege twenty years ago:

The point is that no other strata of society has such a sense of tradition, such a memory for previous plantings. Stanley Baker, in his trilby and three-quarter length, cashiered major’s coat, never missed. The East End has its reputation to uphold: sentiment backed by strict discipline. Senior members of the Firm had been shuttling to Maidstone nick to go over points of procedure with the surviving twin. There’d never be another Ronnie Kray. “There’s been nothing to touch it since Churchill,” said Carole McQueen, florist to the fraternity. …

The event, the procession, the crowds (many of whom didn’t know who was being buried or what he stood for), took on the nature of a self-fulfilling prophecy. It meant something because the journalist said it did. It was important to be there because we were there. Ron’s last rites were television, what more could anybody ask? A chance to recall better times; safe to go out at night, singalong pubs, coppers on the beat.

Never hurt anyone. Look at the charge sheet, a motley crew of cockneys in spirit: John Collins (74, Islington), Hugh Doyle (48, Enfield), John Harbinson (42, Benfleet, Essex), Daniel Jones (58, Enfield), William Lincoln (59, Bethnal Green), Terry Perkins (67, Enfield), Brian Reader (76, Dartford),  Brian aka Paul Reader (50, Dartford) and Carl Wood (58, Cheshunt, Herts).

Brian Reader, the grandfather of the gang. A second-hand car dealer living in an £800,000 house in Kent. Is this the same Brian Reader who as a 45-year-old was charged alongside the notorious Kenny Noye with the murder of detective constable John Fordham in 1985? The same Brian Reader who was seen by detective Neil Murphy kicking John as he lay on the ground after being stabbed by Noye 11 times? The same Brian Reader who was sentenced to nine years’ imprisonment for his role in laundering proceeds of the £26 million Brinks Mat robbery of 1983? The same Brian Reader who was associated with Tommy Adams of the notorious Adams family? Reader & co are due to appear at Southwark Crown Court for a preliminary hearing on 4 June.

Related Blogs

Detective John Fordham and the Curse of Brinks Mat

Michael Gillard: An Appreciation of an Indefatigable Investigative Journalist


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6 Responses to The Long Weekend: Reflections on the Hatton Garden Heist

  1. agogo22 says:

    Reblogged this on msamba.


  2. Chris Williams says:

    Hatton Garden was also, around 1966, the scene of the Met’s first attempt to use CCTV to lower crime – and once they took the camera down when the experiment finished, the scene of their first attempt to use rumours of CCTV to deter criminals.


  3. liam says:

    since when was reader seen kicking john Fordham in the head, I have researched a lot into brinks mat and kenneth noye but I have never ever come across that being said. I know he was there when it happened, but that does not make him a cop murderer like you people try to claim Lol, That was Kenny Noye NOT Brian Reader… BY THE WAY! How do people like yourself feel about some old codgers getting more prison time than a full on paedophile or rapist seem to get for doing even worse. These people hurt NOBODY and stole from rich fucks who care naff all about people like ourselves, so why care about the committing a heist. More respectability for there methods than the dangerous way most foreign gangs would have gone about the same job.


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