There are myriad movies out there that depict gangs of men and dangerous heists, many of them aligning to the narrative cliché of “one last job.” Take the 1995 film “Heat” for example, which isn’t a whole lot different story-wise than the recent film, “Den of Thieves.” Such films show us mostly young tough guys using their brains and extremely powerful weapons to secure the loot.
But in 2017 we got the British film, “The Hatton Garden Job”, which was different in that a bunch of old men were doing the stealing. You might think that is preposterous, but the movie is based on a true story about some guys in their winter years who pulled off the biggest burglary in British history in 2015. How did the old blokes do it? Welcome to this episode of the Infographics Show, The old men who performed the biggest British heist.
This is the story of a real-life heist that happened in the Hatton Garden area of London in April, 2015. In total, it’s thought that the thieves got away with around $270 million worth of jewels that were kept in what was supposed to be a very secure vault, though that number is disputed by some experts.
What is a fact, is that the guys that did the job were mostly old, grey, bald, and even mortally ill. The “Old Blaggers” as they were called, or as the French press called them, “The grandad gang”, are probably the closest thing to “Ocean’s Eleven” out there. None of those that took part was a stranger to the criminal underworld, that’s for sure, and the granddads had been stealing for a long, long time. But let’s have a look at the crime itself before we look at the criminals.
The gang had been planning the heist for around 3 years. We know that because police found evidence that they’d been checking out powerful drills for a number of years before the robbery. It seems they settled with a Hilti DD350 drill, which costs close to $5,000. The gang had watched the place for a long time, understood the security systems, knew more or less what was held in the vault, and they’d already set up ways of laundering the goods.
This was a carefully worked out operation, just as you’d see in the movies. They’d even been tampering with the elevators. It was later found out that one woman who had talked to police said the elevators had one day been really slow. She said she’d seen an older-looking guy in the lift that day dressed in a blue workman’s overalls carrying a tool bag. Let’s just say he wasn’t a workman, as was later discovered.
When staff locked the doors for Easter Weekend, April 2nd, 2015, one of the gang called “Basil” was in the building. He let four other men in through a fire door. They took in with them waste containers on wheels and a whole load of tools, including that huge drill. The gang had earlier worked out how to rig the elevator and it stayed close to the basement. The men then lowered themselves down the elevator shaft. They had also tampered with the alarm system as well as the system that controls the heavy iron doors. When they opened a first iron door, it triggered an alarm, but when a security guard was called to go and check, all looked normal. Next, the men had to drill through the final 6 and a half foot thick wall to the vault and all the security boxes.
They had some trouble in there as some of the equipment didn’t work and they couldn’t get to some of the goods, but the cheeky blighters didn’t worry, they went back the next day to finish the job. Police found no signs of forced entry from the outside, and also found no forensic evidence to work with. It was as if ghosts had been in the building. For this reason, at first police thought it must have been an inside job. Describing what they found in the actual vault, police said in a statement, “The scene is chaotic. The vault is covered in dust and debris and the floor is strewn with discarded safety deposit boxes and numerous power tools, including an angle grinder, concrete drills, and crowbars.”
And they would probably have gotten away with it, if they had understood modern technology. This gang was old school, and what got them arrested in the end was CCTV spotting their van, and evidence they had done the heist recorded on mobiles phones. As police had a car registration to work with, connected to lifelong criminals, they just needed solid evidence. That was the recordings.
One of the investigators called the gang after they were caught, “Analogue criminals operating in a digital world. They lacked the knowledge to defeat digital detectives.” Indeed, police listened to the men talking on their phones, with one of the gang saying, “If we get nicked, at least we can hold our heads up that we had a last go.” Nicked is a UK term for arrested. As the Guardian wrote after the arrests, “Like good old-school criminals, they left no fingerprints, but forgot that the traces left by mobile phones and Freedom Passes linger longer than a thumbprint.”
It turned out these men were career criminals, with links to other big multi-million-dollar robberies in the UK, and some of them were also friends of underworld figures from the past, such as the notorious Kray Twins. The ringleader was said to be 76-year-old Brian Reader. He was arrested with the other boss, 67-year old Terry Perkins (who has since died in prison). The other two main members were 63-year old Daniel Jones and the getaway driver, 75-year old John ‘Kenny’ Collins.
They were sentenced to either six or seven years, which isn’t too steep, but given their age it might mean they won’t experience freedom ever again. They were also ordered to pay back around $36 million, or face another seven years in prison. The judge did sound almost sympathetic when he sentenced the men, saying, “A number of these defendants are not only of a certain age, but have in some cases serious health problems.” Brian Reader is said to be gravely ill, and it’s doubtful he has long to live.
Three other men were also arrested for their involvement in the crime. They were aged 48, 58 and 60. As for this guy called Basil that first got into the building, it’s thought he still has around $13 million worth of the loot, although police believe they have discovered some of that.
Now nicknamed “Basil the Ghost” by the press, it’s thought he may be a 57-year old named Michael Seed. As we record this, he is still awaiting a court appearance.
Not surprisingly, more movies and TV shows are about to come out about this gang and their last big job, and perhaps you won’t be surprised to learn Michael Caine will be in one of them. Cain is now 85, but we are sure he could pass for 76. It seems in their case, loose lips did indeed help sink ships, but oh how close they came to pulling-off one of the biggest heists in history.
So, what do you think about these men? Brave for trying to pull off a massive heist, or not so clever for trying to do such a thing at such an old age? Share your thoughts in the comments! Also, be sure to check out our other video called Effects of Isolation and How Long it Would Take to Go Crazy! Thanks for watching, and, as always, don’t forget to like, share, and subscribe. See you next time!