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Brinks Mat - the heist of the 20th century

PUBLISHED: 15:17 02 December 2009 | UPDATED: 11:16 23 August 2010

MAIN PLAYER: Kenneth Noye

MAIN PLAYER: Kenneth Noye

IT is now 26 years since a ruthless gang of masked, armed robbers burst into a warehouse near Heathrow, beat up the guards, poured petrol over them and stole gold bars worth £25million. Known as the Brinks Mat heist this highly organised raid has a signi

IT is now 26 years since a ruthless gang of masked, armed robbers burst into a warehouse near Heathrow, beat up the guards, poured petrol over them and stole gold bars worth £25million.

Known as the Brinks Mat heist this highly organised raid has a significant place in criminal folklore.

Running for more than two decades it would involve scores of members of the criminal fraternity in Bromley, Bexleyheath, Dartford, Gravesend and Sevenoaks. There would be at least four murders. Dozens of people would be set up financially for life while others served long imprisonments.

Additionally, the focus of attention would move dramatically from Bexleyheath to a cottage at West Kingsdown, to re-smelting locations in the West Country, to clearing banks in Jersey, Panama and the Cayman Islands, to the oil fields of Texas, to the golden sands of Southern Spain and back to an M25 interchange at Swanley.

As we mark the 26th anniversary of that raid, the vast bulk of the bullion remains unrecovered and, it is said, hundreds of innocent people are wearing Brinks Mat gold jewellery that was purchased in the UK after 1983. The pivitol figure in the whole affair, Kenneth Noye, is serving a life sentence

It was on November 26, 1983 that the gang carefully loaded 6,800 bars of gold into a small lorry. It was packed into 76 cardboard boxes and it weighed three tons. Needing help to turn the gold into clean cash the robbers called upon criminals with specialist knowledge and this is where Noye came in.

At the time he was living in Hollywood Cottage (more like a mansion), in West Kingsdown with his wife and son.

An expert in the laundering and re-smelting business Noye took care of much of the haul, stacking the cardboard boxes in the garage of his parents home in Jenten Avenue, Bexleyheath, saying they were 'batteries'.

Noye then brought in his pals, Brian Perry from Brasted and John Palmer who ran a Bristol-based gold dealership called Scadlyn. The company was used as a cover for the smelting operation with the end product being sold on the scrap metal market.

In five months Noye, Perry and Palmer had deposited more than £10million.

Two of the three key members of the gang, Micky McAvoy and Brian Robinson were jailed for 25 years. A third man Anthony White was cleared because of lack of evidence. He lived in a council house in Bromley but within weeks had spent more than £400,000 buying and restoring homes in London and Kent.

The police simply did not have enough evidence to convict the men they suspected. That included Palmer who admitted smelting down gold bars from the raid but said he did not know where they had come from.

Like all journalists I followed the story with great interest but that intensified when the undercover detective John Fordham was stabbed to death as he staked out Noye's house, Hollywood Cottage, in January 1985.

Meanwhile, the search for gold was underway. At Hollywood Cottage detectives found a collection of copper coins of a kind used in the resmelting of gold. They also found a child's drawing of a gold bar in a kitchen drawer and a copy of the Guinness Book of Records with a circle around the Brinks Mat entry.

They came across tiny gold particles in a Ford transit and, to their obvious delight, they found 11 gold bars, worth in excess of £100,000, wrapped up in a cloth.

Day after day the search continued. The swimming pool was drained and secret compartments were discovered. Wood panels, removed in the house, revealed more compartments. There was no more gold. The police knew the distribution chain started with Noye. They knew he had friends in high places including Asil Nadir in Cyprus. They knew that £3million cash had been withdrawn from a bank in Bristol that required so many Bank of England notes that even the Treasury had to be informed.

And they knew that enormous sums of money were being deposited in banks across the world.

Eventually there was enough evidence to jail Noye for laundering the proceeds but, of the other 14 who took part in planning and executing the biggest haul in British criminal history robbery, most got away with it.

Since then the story has moved on, providing twist after twist to what has been a 26-year saga of betrayal, double dealing and murder.

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