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Art Theft

Bang! smash, the clatter of alarms, hundreds of police descend on Hatton Garden, within 5 minutes of the alarm being tripped…Well, that was what should have happened. Instead, we get a single copper looking through a window, and deciding not to bother? It seems to me, Sir Bernhard Hogan-Howe, head of London’s Metropolitan Police Service, has more than a few questions to answer...

Central London Jewel Heist, Safe deposit boxes, abseiling down lift shafts? This is London, not Hollywood. Where's Tom Cruise when you need him? Probably auditing future ex-wives at a Scientology weekender. At this rate, we'll have Danger Mouse running through the streets of London again soon. At least he’d do a better job than Old Bill did over the Easter period.

For anyone of you who haven't heard of, or don't know of Hatton Garden, known as London's Jewelry quarter, it consists of about three hundred local businesses, many of which are satellite service business that feed off, and supply the forty jewelry shops in Garden. It's the diamond district for Gods sake, and, as has been proved, attracts all sorts of attention, and in this case, unwanted attention. You’d be forgiven for thinking that Hatton Garden would be watched like a hawk 24 / 7, 365 the way New York's 47th street operates, ever since the great crime wave of the 1970's (see earlier stories on thefts, here and here).

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As with most of us who had an interest in this story, the sheer audacity and the methods used by the crew carrying out this heist were shocking, startling, and almost unbelievable; a thing of the movies. Early reporting consisting of talk of abseiling down a lift shaft, busting and cutting through a two meter re-enforced concrete wall, and raiding up to - what was reported at the time - 300 safe deposit boxes. How does that happen, in this day and age?

Given that Tuesday was the day the news broke, I figured best to stay away, and visit the Garden the next day, and try and make a few enquiries of my own, if possible, and once some of the dust had settled…

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Albert Prince Consort (1819 - 1861)
Proudly Towers over the edge of Hatton Garden

It's almost pointless trying to park a car in the area, so the next best thing is London's Underground, with Chancery Lane (on the central line) being the closest tube station to Hatton Garden, and the London Silver Vaults for that matter. On exiting the tube station, it's a short walk down High Holborn to the Garden. From the Station exit, and looking down Holborn, you can see the massive figure of Albert Prince Consort,which pretty much marks out the entrance to the Garden.

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Holborn entrance to Hatton Garden, located just on the edge of the
City of London

On entering Hatton Garden, there was a quiet eeriness, which, to a certain degree was understandable, as it was still the Easter Holidays, which in London were and still are, notoriously quiet for business operating in the luxury end of the market. It’s a time when a lot of people just go on holidays and of course kids are off school for two weeks, in the UK.

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Hatton Garden Holborn entrance view, dead as a door nail

I wasn’t quite sure what I expected to see or hear on the trip up the road. I guess as I turned the corner into Hatton Garden, I was possibly expecting to see 500 flying squad police cars, helicopters landing, Armed police everywhere, and old bill questioning anything that moved? I really didn’t know, so deadness in the air did come as a surprise.

I wasn’t quite sure where the Safety Deposit building was located so, it was a case of keep moving, and I was bound to come across some action, further up the street.

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Nothing going on

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Looking for the customers? They ain't coming today!

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Even the traffic stayed at home

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You could hear a pin drop in some parts of the street

Then, there it was, the building we’d all seen on the terrestrial media’s news reporting, right on the intersection with Greville street.

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Bigger than the Brinks MAT Heist?

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What a place to park your car?

It was a pretty unassuming building entrance, aside from the almost Mackintosh-esk styled numbering above the doorway, and of course, it’s an entrance I’d walked past many many times over the years, without giving it a second glance.

The first thing you do, when you arrive at the scene, is check out who is on the ground - a 360 degree look round – and you try and work out who you think might be best to speak with, and who might have something which you can report. Running through your mind is that thought; someone here must know something.

First up, I spoke to a Jewish dealer called Jeremy, who, from our conversation, and to all intents and purposes was a dealer who could be described as a ‘runner’, a middle man in a deal might be another description to use. I asked him if he knew anything, i.e. what had been taken, any word on who did it? All the kind of questions which you’d have to ask. Nothing, he knew absolutely nothing, and he was one of those guys in the crowd, whom you might call a ‘floater’, just hanging in amongst the hustle and bustle of the news crews, no doubt hoping to hear anything which might throw any light on the situation, or get his face on a screen.

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That's Jeremy on the left...

No luck with Jeremy, so we move on and checked out who else looked like they might be ‘in the know’.

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Laurence (right) with his colleague

Next up, Laurence Young, a decent fellow, and someone who works in one of the many upstairs offices and workshops on the street. He was hanging outside the entrance to his business, on-looking like everyone else. He was up front and open with me, and re-iterated what I was beginning to feel was going to be the days message. Nobody knew anything, dealers still hadn’t gained entry to their boxes in the safe deposit vault, so they couldn’t get back to business, even if they wanted to. Laurence did say that a number of people who literally had 30 years of their life’s work in the vaults of 88 – 90 Hatton Garden, were still on edge, and unsure whether it was game over for them, and their businesses. A state of limbo for some people.

That’s how serious this crime is. A lifetimes work for some people, was in these boxes, and still, nobody knew if they’d been the ones who had been hit. That’s a really tough pill to swallow.

Laurence didn’t really know anything, but he was a nice guy, and a pleasure to speak with.

We moved on.

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Camera and news crews out side the entrance of the building which was raided

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Anyone with a morsel of thought on the situation
was being interviewed

There was a really funny and strange atmosphere on the corner of Hatton Garden and Greville Street, almost everyone in the area was just hanging there, in an almost hypnotic static floating-like way, knowing that nobody could do anything, or indeed, that nobody knew anything, and why would they? The Camera crews and reporters hungry for any snippet of information, or any story related to the Hatton Garden Heist. Everyone else seemed to be just waiting around for nothing to happen. A strange vibe, really strange.

THE LOCAL BOBBY ON THE BEAT

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The local Bobby

Just across the road from Laurence, was a British Bobby on the beat, the local PC. I spoke with him, and he didn’t seem to know anything, and suggested that the Metropolitan Police’s press representative hadn’t been on the ground today, so there was no more news. I did try the ‘£100 + lunch at Saul's Salt Beef Bar at a time and date of his choosing’, method, but that wasn’t enough to tempt.

Of course we were just jesting, but interestingly, during our conversation, a fellow - and how can I say this - butted in?...and started his own conversation with the officer. This fellow reminded me a little bit of a silver dealer I used to do some business with, and with whom I shared an apple pie, many years ago.

The guy was about 65 years old, wearing a brown trilby, lightly bearded, stocky, and with a friendly enough face. The guy chatted with the officer for a little bit while I was standing there, they were talking about nothing really - and then off he walked, with the officer suggesting to me “that sounds like the guy you want to speak with” as the guy walked away…

MR 42

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The Mr 42 rendezvous

I chased after this fellow, and followed him into the entrance space in a vault just down the road. “Hello”, I said in a polite slightly loud-ish voice, just before he hit the re-enforced turnstiles to go into the building. He turned round, and I said hello, and asked him if I could take a couple of minutes of his time. To which he replied “sure”. At this point, the fellow asked to remain anonymous and for the sake of this article, we’ll call him ‘Mr. 42’, because that’s what his name numerically adds up to.

Mr 42 : What do you wanna know?

E.L. : Well, obviously it’s a huge deal what’s happened here, and I wondered what your thoughts were, and if you knew anything about the heist, or if there was any information which you might able to share with us on what’s been taken or what was in the deposit boxes?

Mr 42 : Well, look, it’s impossible to know what was taken, but let’s talk about gold. Say, for arguments sake, there were 100 boxes opened, with 2kgs of gold in each box, how much does that come to?

E.L. : Well how much is gold at the moment per KG?

Mr 42 : $35k per KG for arguments sake

E.L. : That’s $7 million

Mr 42 : Well there you go. Now I know that vault, and it’s got a lot of Indian and Muslim clients. What do they like?

E.L. : I don’t know.

Mr 42 : They like the coloured stones. Now coloured stones, they’re (the Robbers) gonna be able to move those.

E.L. : If there was any really special coloured stones, they’d have difficulty moving those, wouldn’t they?

Mr 42 : All the special ones are already gone.

By that I think he meant sold and owned over the years, as in good goods are hard to find…

Mr 42 : So the coloured stones and the gold they can move, now the diamonds, that’s something different.

E.L. : Why’s that?

Mr 42 : Well diamonds all have a GIA certificate, and they have a number in-printed into the diamond. Now they can have the diamonds re-cut, and cut around the identity numbers, but you can’t remove the flaw in a flawed diamond, it’s like a fingerprint which is recorded on the GIA certificate. If they re-cut around the identity number, the flaw is still there, and in order to sell that stone, you need to go get a GIA certificate, and when you do that, the stone will be recognized because of the flaw.

E.L. : What, so it’s a bit like this painting on the wall (there were three paintings on the wall of the foyer of 100 Hatton Garden) in that, it will always remain the same, and look like that, so if someone steals it, they cant sell it, or it’s black market material?

Mr 42 : That’s right. Look, this is the third time that vault has been hit, and you think they’d learn wouldn’t you? You see this place.

There’s three cameras right here, you need a pass to get through those bars, a pass for the lift, and pass for the vault, a pass for everything in this place. And there’s cameras in the deposit box room. Now, they don’t even have cameras in the vault section of the place up the road. How much are cameras? Three grand to instal? It’s nothing, and, you can lay off the security on those cameras to someone else. How much do you think a box is? £300 a year, £500 a year? Well that’s 200k a year which the owner is drawing down, not particularly good money to earn for the owner of the vault, after expenses. I used to have a box in that vault many years ago, and I didn’t like it so I came down here. Aside from the massive amount of security here, do you know why I like this place?

E.L. : No.

Mr 42 : Because the loos (toilets) are clean.

E.L. : That’s a start I guess.

Mr 42 : They clean the floors, the walls, the sinks, everything, and there’s no smell of piss.

E.L : Okay…?

Mr 42 : Do you know what number my box was up the road in that vault?

E.L. : No, how could I know that?

Mr 42 : Well have a guess.

E.L : What do you mean, have a guess?

Mr 42 : What number do you think my box was?

E.L. : I don’t know; number one?

Mr 42 : No, have another guess.

E.L : What do you mean, have another guess?

Mr 42 : It was number 69.

And with that thought, he spread his arms, faced the palms of his hands upwards, and aimed his eyes at the sky....

Mr 42 : Please God, it’s been so long…

E.L : That’s funny, you sound like you like a bit of Broccoli first thing in the morning.

Mr 42 : What?

E.L. : Never mind, you will have had to have read a story which we published last night (click here to read). Look, thank you so much for your time and sharing your thoughts, it’s been really good to speak with you.

Mr 42 : Why?

E.L. : Huh?

Mr 42 : Why?

E.L. : I don’t know why, it just has, and it’s been good fun speaking with you as well.

Mr 42 : How?

E.L. : What do you mean how?

Mr 42 : How's it been fun?

E.L. : I don’t know how, it just has, and thank you very much for taking the time with me.

Mr 42 : There’s more, and I’ll be back down in 2 minutes.

He said as he darted off towards the steel turnstiles 10 feet away in the entrance to the building, and as he did I said to him:

E.L. : Ok, well maybe I’ll see you outside in the street then.
Off he went, and I’d done my time in Hatton Garden for the day, so I bailed out, and headed back to the tube station.

***

THE HATTON GARDEN HEIST
The most recent press release on the MET Website: 09 April 2015

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Flying Squad Detective Chief Inspector Paul Johnson made the following statement in Hatton Garden at 1400hrs on Thursday 9 April:
"Initially police were called at 08:10hrs on Tuesday 7 April to Hatton Garden Safety Deposit Ltd following reports of a burglary which took place over the Easter bank holiday.

"The scene is chaotic - the vault is covered in dust and debris"

"The building where the theft took place is made up of a number of businesses, with a communal entrance. The safety deposit business is in the basement.

"There is no sign of forced entry to the outside of the building. The thieves have disabled the communal lift on the second floor and then used the lift shaft to climb down into the basement.

"They forced open shutter doors into the basement where HGSD is then made their way to the vault, where they used a Hilti DD350 drill to bore holes into the vault wall. The wall is two metres thick and made of re-enforced concrete.

"Once inside they forced open up to 70 safety deposit boxes.

"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.

"We are in the process of identifying the owners of the safety deposit boxes and as we do we are contacting them to take statements and find out what has been stolen. This is a slow and ongoing process.

"We are still forensically examining the scene for evidence. This is a painstaking process but is essential to ensure we can gather as much evidence and opportunities to identify the thieves.

"Officers are gathering and examining CCTV to identify any possible leads."

"I realise there have been a number of reports in the media around the alarm being activated on the Friday and the police response.

This will of course form part of the investigation.

"I urge anyone who has any information about this theft, or saw anything suspicious in the area around Hatton Garden Safety Deposit Ltd over the Easter bank holiday to contact the Flying Squad on 020 8785 8655.

"Or if you don’t want to leave your name you can contact Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111."

***

BACK TO THE GARDEN

Friday 10 April

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Where's everyone gone?

On Friday 10 April, I went back down to Hatton Garden for a second fly-by, it was much quieter on this visit, with Sky news looking like the only crew there as far as I could see. It also looked like they’d be willing to interview a lamp post if it looked like it had any information to offer up. Leads were drying up fast; that was my take.

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News team, speaking with the last man standing...

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I was kind of hoping that Kay Burley was gonna be there
with her toothbrush
"Check this out" Kay? Me thinks you owe me some broccoli, darling

Looking up at the buildings, there didn’t seem to be too many CCTV cameras around, although there may have been well hidden cameras, in places not easily seeable from ground level, or, there may not be that many of them in that particular location. But there will have definitely been some, somewhere.

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Look up and smile, your on camera :: but just not that many of them on this building
which, apparently, has been turned over three times...Mmmmm

During my first visit on Wednesday, I noticed a group of three identically dressed gentleman hanging out on the corner of Greville and Hatton Garden. Two of the guys were, if you like, ‘regular’ sized guys, and one guy was somewhere in the region of 19 foot 12 inches tall. I mean this guy was huge. Partly the reason I didn't speak to them, or approach them on Wednesday, was because this big guy was so huge, and I was bit, errm, nervous about just bowling up to them. However, these are just the kind of guys you want on the local firm. Come and have a go if you think your hard enough, type looking geezers. When I noticed them on Wednesday, they certainly looked like HG security, so I thought I'd look round for them again on Friday and see if they might be able to assist in my enquiries.

They weren't immediately apparent in the Garden on Friday, but there was a huge Russian sounding guy on the newspaper stand close to where they’d been hanging out a couple of days ago. A news paper stand which, by the way, is a free newspaper stand… Huge Russian sounding guy, free news papers?…Anyway. I asked the fellow who the ‘firm’ was on the manner, and he seemed a bit perplexed. Again I asked, “who is the security for the area”, and he still didn't quite understand, so I said “you know, the ones who look after ‘things’.” He said, “oh, I get it, Hatton Garden security” (which is not a totally surprising name for the security firm for the street). And then the fellow winked at me, and he definitely wasn't of the 'shirt-lifter' variety, that much I could tell.

So I bowled around looking for cameras, and like I said earlier, not too many to see, but you do notice what buildings overlook the raided vault building, which seem to be apartments, in a lot of cases. Someone just must have seen something…

Anyway, after another peruse round the area, I came back to the corner where the security firm were the other day, and where the newspaper stand is, and there was one guy standing there. It might be that he'd been called to get to the corner? There wasn't too many people openly casing the joint and the surrounding buildings like I was on Friday afternoon, and at the moment and in the current climate, if you cross the road in an unusual fashion in Hatton Garden, I reckon security are called.

I went up to the security guy on the corner, who was one of the smaller guys I’d seen from the other day, and asked him if he was security, and he said yes, and I asked what firm he was with, and he said Hatton Garden Security, so I pulled out a card and gave to him, and I asked him if he wouldn’t mind passing the the card to his Governor.

My thinking being that It would possibly be nice to make contact with the Firm. I asked his name, he said Tony (obviously a boxer in days gone by) and I said my names Elliot Lee, nice to meet you. He said, do you want security, I said no, but you never know what can happen, so please give your Governor the card. He said, oh, okay, thanks, and off I walked. Tony seemed to be one of those good East End stand up kind of fellows.

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Let's hope having a bird for a Manager in the past, hasn't turned them all soft

I hung round for another 20 minutes or so, checking things out, and then swung by the security corner again. Big Russian sounding fellow and Tony were standing there together, both chatting away, so I walked past and gave them a special Queens Park Rangers, “have a good weekend, ladies”, the ladies bit was said just a little bit quieter for obvious reasons, and they both simultaneously said, oh, okay, thanks.

That was it for Friday, nothing more coming out, and seemingly back to business, in the Garden.

As an update:

Here’s the link to the latest CCTV video footage from 2 April showing three people whom the police are looking to question, inconnection with the robbery:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1xuxYH1Jbvg

Elliot Lee

About the Author

Elliot Lee

Elliot Lee

Elliot Lee founded his antique business in 1994. Having bought his first Antique piece at the tender age of eleven, it has since then been his passion for Antiques, Fine Art, and aesthetically beautif...
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