During Easter weekend 2015, more than $300 million in cash, diamonds, and jewels were stolen right under everyone’s noses at the Hatton Garden Safe Deposit in London. It was known around the world as the “greatest heist in British history,” and, in all honestly, this robbery was pretty epic.
Experts insisted that the heist was the work of Navy SEAL-like professionals who were highly technical and in great shape. From the outside, the heist looked meticulously planned and supremely executed, and many called it the “perfect crime.” But when arrests were made a month later, the entire world gasped.
Retirement’s hard, man. Your wife’s gone. Most of your friends are either in prison, exile, or six feet under. Even the detectives you once tried so hard to get away from have either died, retired, or completely forgotten about you. Your days are filled with sulking around your run-down mansion on the outskirts of London and trying your hand at gardening.
Maybe you’ll piss off your neighbors with your used-car dealership that you run out of your home and then hobble over to the newsstand to read stories about younger men doing what you once did. This was the life of 76-year-old Brian Reader. “He ain’t got no friends no more,” one of his former colleagues later said. “Sitting down there in the café talks about all their yesterdays.”
Reader has infuriated the London police for practically his entire life. He was first arrested at 11 years old for breaking and entering, and soon after, he was a known associate of the infamous Tommy Adams crime family. The thief was also reportedly part of the “Millionaire Moles” gang, who notoriously dug under a restaurant to rob 268 safe deposit boxes from a London bank in 1971.
The total sum of their loot? $59 million (as well as some very interesting photographs of the late Princess Margaret and her lover, actor Richard Harris). In those days, Reader was good at getting away with his crimes and often spent his days skiing in the French Alps or yachting in Spain.
Life was good. Well, that is until one job went completely awry in 1983. Reader and a group of bandits decided to rob a high-security warehouse at Heathrow Airport in London. The thieves expected to find around $4 million in cash inside that warehouse, but, instead, they stumbled upon $145 million in gold.
Reader was merely a “simple soldier” in this robbery, as his only job was to transfer the gold to a man named Kenny Noye, who promised to melt the gold down. Everything seemed to be going smoothly until suddenly Noye stabbed a detective multiple times in front of Reader. Although the two were eventually acquitted for murder (after claiming self-defense), they were later found guilty of theft.
Reader was sentenced to nine years for his part in the robbery. When he was released in 1994, it seemed that the thief had finally put his life of crime behind him. But two decades later, the former criminal found himself suffering from prostate cancer, and with nothing else to lose, he decided to get back into the game with his biggest job yet.
Reader studied books like The Diamond Underworld, and he began buying diamond testers, scales, and gauges for his “one last hurrah.” He then hired “someone for drilling, someone for electrics, someone as a lookout—all experienced villains who knew what they were doing,” says Peter Spindler, the head of the police force investigating the heist.
Number two on the heist was 67-year-old Terry Perkins, who was living out his last years in a small house near London. His neighbors say that he was a hermit who never left his home. But little did they know that Perkins was the ringleader of the largest cash robbery in the history of Britain. Well, at least it was at the time.
Number three was 60-year-old Danny Jones, who was an oddball, to say the least. “[He was] Eccentric to such extremes that everyone who knew Danny would say he was mad,” one of his colleagues said in 2016. “He would go to bed in his mother’s dressing gown with a fez on.”
Jones went to bed every night in a sleeping bag on his floor, urinated in a bottle, and spoke to his small terrier as if he were human. He often locked himself away at around five in the afternoon to “study crime” and watch videos on the Internet.
Another accomplice was 58-year-old Carl Wood, a violent criminal who “retired” to focus on painting and decorating. Wood dressed in a V-neck sweater and kept his reading glasses on a string around his neck—attire which belittled his criminal past. His wardrobe, along with his slim physique that allowed him to crawl into tight places, was key to the operation.
The driver and lookout man was 75-year-old John “Kenny” Collins, a classic London villain. He walked around with his Staffordshire bull terrier and imported fireworks by the crateful. He was a walking pawnshop whose rap sheet was riddled with burglary convictions, dating back to ’61.
Although he was handy, diabetes forced him into retirement. Collins was also reportedly growing deafer and more forgetful with each day. There were another three heist members: plumber Hugh Doyle, 48, William Lincoln, 60, who helped move the stolen treasure, and “Basil,” who remained at large for years.
According to Jones, Basil was an ex-policeman and the brains of the operation. He knew the building like the back of his hand. He disarmed the alarms and let the rest of the gang inside. Police later found out that Basil, whose real name is Michael Seed, was, in fact, an electronic expert.
He was arrested nearly three years after the robbery, but we’ll get to that later. As it turns out, the Hatton Garden heist was the work of this ragtag group of retirees who represented the last of traditional British villains.
These criminals were more Lavender Hill Mob than James Bond. “Run? Ah, they can barely walk,” Danny Jones wrote from jail. “One has cancer—he’s 76. Another heart condition, 68. Another, 75, can’t remember his name. Sixty-year-old with two new hips and knees.”
“Crohn’s disease. I won’t go on. It’s a joke.” However, this group of retirees managed to defy their age, ailments, alarms, and even the London police force to power their way through walls of steel and solid concrete to steal more than $20 million. So, how did they do it?
The vault belonged to the Hatton Garden Safe Deposit Ltd. (H.G.S.D.) and was located inside a seven-story building, which has around 60 tenants—most of them jewelers. The main building door is unlocked between nine in the morning and six in the evening.
However, all tenants have their own keys to get into the building during off-hours. Just after the main door is a glass door that can be opened with a four-digit PIN code, known to all the tenants. This leads to an unstaffed lobby, in which there is an elevator to reach the basement, where the vault is located.
Next to the elevator, there is a door that opens to stairs that also lead to the basement. There is another door (with a PIN number), then a burglar alarm, and a sliding iron gate manned by a security guard. While this seems like a pretty air-tight security system, it is, in fact, flawed.
Why? Because there’s actually a much easier way to get into the vault area: a fire exit that is accessible from the street. Only two businesses have the keys to this fire exit, one of them being jeweler Lionel Wiffen.
Strange things began to happen in January 2015, just three months before the heist. Wiffen felt “uneasy” because he was certain that he was being watched. Then, one day, another jeweler, Katya Lewis, said she waited for what seemed like forever for the elevator.
When it finally arrived, she saw an aging repairman inside. He was wearing blue overalls and was surrounded by building equipment. “He smiled apologetically because there was no room for her to get in,” the prosecutor later said. The overalls were later found in Terry Perkin’s home. He had apparently been casing the building.
Then came the fire. Just after 12:30 p.m. on April 1st, a gas main burst, and gas slowly leaked into the tunnels that house London’s telecommunications and electrical cable networks. Then, a spark ignited the gas, sending thick, black smoke and flames shooting up from manhole covers.
The city’s power failed. Gas supplies ran out. Chaos ensued. Thousands of people were evacuated all throughout the city as dozens of police and firefighters dealt with the emergency. No one knew what was going on. It took nearly two days to get everything under control again.
Then came the Thursday before Easter and Passover weekend. All the jewelers of Hatton Garden placed their jewels and cash into their safe-deposit boxes, thinking that everything was safe. The area, which has more than 300 jewelry-related companies, is a community based on trust.
However, this trust is constantly tested by crime. “Hatton Garden has a number of people whose history is not exactly squeaky-clean,” jeweler Joel Grunberger said in 2003. “Honest dealers work cheek by jowl with the villains.” Heists occurred often enough that the merchants decided to build an impenetrable vault.
But even with this new vault, robbers still managed to get inside. “I had a box there for 35 years and closed it down after the third incident,” jeweler Alan Gard said in 2016. One time, two security guards made copies of the vault’s keys.
Another time, robbers tied up the security guards and ransacked the place. Then, in 2003, a thief pretended to be a jeweler, leased a security deposit box, and robbed the place when no one was looking. But even with all these hiccups, people still believed the vault was perfectly safe.
On that Thursday before the holiday weekend, there was practically a line of people just waiting to deposit their valuables. “Four carats, five carats, all shades, brilliant-cut, heart-shaped—a magnificent collection!” one jeweler said, describing the items that he deposited that weekend.
At 8:19 p.m., the staff locked up for the holiday, and everyone went home. Then, about an hour later, a CCTV camera picked up a strange sight. There was a thin man, wearing a blue jacket and a flat cap. He was carrying a black bag and hid his face from the cameras.
The man was later identified by police as Basil or Michael Seed. He had the keys to the front door of the building and quickly let himself inside. He then headed towards the fire exit, disabling alarms and cameras along the way.
But Basil made a crucial mistake—one that would lead police straight to the robbers. Basil, ever so smart, forgot to disable two CCTV cameras: one in the fire-exit hallway and one on the second floor of the building. Shortly after Basil appeared, a camera on the street showed a white van slowing making its way to the fire exit entrance.
Then, several men hopped out of the van and began unloading bags, tools, and two large bins with wheels in plain sight. People passed by a gang of men on their way home from work or to the pub, not thinking twice.
The men were, after all, disguised as city workers, wearing neon yellow vests, hard hats, and white masks. But who were these men really? Well, the ringleader, Brian Reader, was the one wearing a colorful striped scarf; Terry Perkins was in the dark sweatshirt and hard hat; and Danny Jones was wearing in a baseball cap and red sports shoes.
Within minutes, Basil opened the fire-exit door from the inside, and the men began to make their way inside. Kenny Collins, the driver and lookout man, entered an office building from across the street so he could keep a tab on what was happening.
But instead, according to one of the robbers, he just “sat up there and fell asleep.” It was a three-day job, for which the men had to come prepared. “Sixty-seven,” diabetic Perkins later said of his age. “F***ing 20 pills a day. I had it all with me, my injections.”
Once the men reached the inside of the fire escape, they were unable to open a thick, white door that led to the vault in the basement. But that was okay because these men had a different plan in mind. They walked up to the second floor, pressed the button for the elevator, and then disabled it.
They returned to the ground floor, pried open the shaft door, and jumped 12 to 14 feet to the basement. Then, one of the men shimmied himself into the air lock and partially disabled the alarm. Keep in mind that these men are in their 70s.
But remember when I said that the men had only partially turned off the alarm. Yeah, so the alarm company was notified by text message about a potential break-in, and they then contacted one of the building’s owners. Kevin Stockwell, the head guard of the vault, was called to check the building out.
Stockwell arrived just after one in the morning but saw no sign of forced entry. “It’s all locked up,” he told the building’s owner. When the police arrived, they also noted that nothing seemed amiss and concluded that “no police response was deemed to be required.”
Little did they know what was actually going on. While Stockwell was busy speaking with the police, the men were able to pull open the second air-locked iron gate. They were officially inside the vault—but it wasn’t over, at least not yet.
Between the men and the security, boxes lay a nearly 20-inch-thick, solid, concrete wall. But this was child’s play for these experienced thieves. Luckily, they brought along a 77-pound (and $5,200) Hilti DD 350 drill. These guys weren’t messing around. At last, Danny Jones was able to apply what he had learned from the hours he had spent studying YouTube videos.
After anchoring the drill onto the floor, Jones then connected it to a water hose. This not only kept the drill cool and reduced the amount of dust, but it also muffled the sound. The drill only made a quiet, water-splattering, humming noise as it drilled through the concrete wall.
It took two and a half hours, but, at last, three overlapping holes had been cut through the wall. This should have been time for celebration—they were finally in! But as Terry Perkins put it, this was a “f**k me” moment.
As the diamond thieves peered through the holes, they didn’t see the inside of a diamond-filled vault. No. Instead, they saw a wall of solid steel. They were looking at the back of the safety-deposit boxes, which were unmovable as they were bolted to the ceiling and floor.
This is not what the thieves expected. So, they looked around at their tools. They had a Clarke pump with a 10-ton hydraulic ram (these guys were packed!), which should have been strong enough to blow the doors off anything. But they hit a dead-end once again.
The pump broke, and the steel cabinets stood firm. There was no getting out of this one. “Carl, do something for f*** sake,” Danny Jones yelled at his fellow robber, Carl Wood, who was “walking around in circles.”
Around 8 a.m. the following morning, the robbers left the vault, planning on returning a few hours later. Well, everyone except for Brian Reader, the ringleader. Reader was convinced that if they returned to the vault, they would be caught. Sure, he wanted to make millions like the rest of them. But the 76-year-old had no interest in spending the rest of his life in prison.
Reader made his way to the subway station and returned home the same way he had come. But Danny Jones and Kenny Collins didn’t walk away. Instead, they went shopping at two machinery-equipment shops right outside London.
Jones paid $140 for another Clarke pump and hose and used the name “V. Jones” on the receipt. The name is a reference to Vinnie Jones, the actor from the heist movie Stock and Two Smoking Barrels?). But in a rookie mistake, Jones used his own street address. This would later come back and bite him in the butt.
The thieves returned to the scene of the crime at 10 p.m. on Saturday (two days after the heist first began) only to find that their fire exit’s door was locked. That’s when Carl Wood followed in Reader’s footsteps and decided to quit.
“His a**hole went, and he thought we would never get in,” Kenny Collins later told reporters. “I said, ‘Give it another half-hour.’ [And he said], ‘F***, we’ve done everything we can do.’” Well, after Woods up and left, the remaining men were able to get inside. All they needed to do was send in their electronics expert, Basil, to do his thing.
Collins returned to his lookout (aka napping) post across the street, while Jones, Perkins, and Basil went back inside, armed with their new pump. They hooked up the pump, and the ten tons of water pressure went to work. After what seemed like forever, Perkins yelled, “We’re in! We’re in!”
And there it was, the most beautiful sight they’d ever seen. However, they still weren’t inside the vault. Next, one of the men had to somehow slither his way through the 10 by 18-inch hole in the concrete wall. This ruled out Terry Perkins, who was a bit too stocky to fit.
This left Basil and fitness enthusiast Danny Jones to fit through the hole. After they made their way in, the two began busting open deposit box after deposit box with sledgehammers and crowbars.
Perkins, who was waiting on the other side of the wall, took a selfie as the jewels were being ferried out to him. He later said the selfie was meant to be used as a “f*** you” to Brian Reader for leaving. Since they were short two thieves, Jones and Basil were only able to break into 73 of the 996 boxes, but it was enough.
Inside these security, deposit boxes were diamonds, jewelry, gold, platinum, and cash galore. The robbers had no conscience. In their minds, they were stealing from the rich, who had plenty to spare. Would it really hurt these people to share some of their wealth with the poor?
Perkins later said that he had a personal vendetta against the Hatton Garden jewelers, who he says, used a fake stone on his daughter’s engagement ring. No one was going to rip her off. “They deserve all they get, Dad,” she reportedly told him.
Around 5:45 a.m. (Easter Sunday, no less), the job was complete. The empty metal boxes lay scattered across the floor, along with the drill. However, there was no DNA evidence, thanks to their careful study of Forensics for Dummies (no, I am not joking).
Jones made his way up the stairs to the fire escape, pump in hand, and Perkins followed him soon after. Then, they both lifted a bin so heavy with booty that Perkins had to stop at the top of the stars to catch his breath.
Then, Collins drove them away in his Mercedes, dropping them all of at their homes. Within 36 hours, the loot was divided up among them. On Tuesday morning, everyone at Hatton Garden went to work as usual.
But when the security guard went downstairs for his shift, he noticed something was very, very wrong. “I think we’ve been burgled,” he told Kelvin Stockwell, the building’s owner. So, Stockwell went downstairs and noticed that the top lock of a door in the basement was missing. When he peered through the hole where the lock should have been, he saw complete chaos.
He saw drills, pipes, and cutting tools all scattered on the floor. “I called the police. Fifteen, twenty minutes [later] they turned up,” Stockwell told reporters in 2016. “They looked through the door. We went inside. It was like a bomb had hit the place.”
With the police also came some of the security box holders. By 10 a.m., the entire street was filled with people in complete and utter misery. “I was sitting at home enjoying an afternoon cup of coffee, a piece of Passover cake when I heard my children speaking of a big robbery,” a diamond dealer commented.
The dealer, who claims to have had over $720,000 worth of jewels in his deposit box, said that he didn’t pay attention to what his children were talking about because “there are robberies all the time.” But then one of his children told him where the robbery had taken place, and he almost fainted.
“I heard that, and I’ve never felt anything like it,” the diamond dealer continued. “If you had said to me, ‘Jump out of a 20-story building onto a mattress in the street,’ that’s what you feel. Everything you worked for, gone!”
The man joined the now growing crowd in the street in front of the Hatton Garden Safe Deposit. But the rightfully emotional dealers were barred from entering the building. Then, the media and insurance adjusters began to show up. It took police at least three days to sort through the rubble left by the jewelry thieves.
The victims were asked to give a list of what was in their box. It was a simple request, or so the police thought. However, many people weren’t ready to give up that information. Were some of the items stolen goods? Or was there cash that hadn’t been declared to the tax authorities?
The jewelry heist dominated the British headlines as CCTV video of the masked robbers was leaked to The Mirror newspaper. The public seemed to be rooting for these daring thieves who were still at large while blaming the police for failing to respond to the alarm that went off that first night.
For six weeks, the burglars sat in the suburbs, basking in their bounty and reliving their crime. It didn’t matter. Although they were old and sick, these men were full-on thieves again, and it made them happy. It also helped that the thieves had a source in the police force.
“Ain’t you caught them yet, the big heist?” Jones said, quoting what his source had asked a London detective. But the cop answered no. That was because the cops thought it was an inside job, according to Perkins.
“If they think it’s an inside job, they will not put 100 percent into it,” he continued. Even so, Perkins already thought of what he’d say to the cops in the unlikely event that they’d come knocking on his door looking to arrest him. “No comment,” he would tell them. “I can’t even f***ing walk.”
A team of around 50 detectives was assigned to the Hatton Garden heist. The entire operation was overseen by Peter Spindler, who, like the burglars, was reaching retirement age. The team siffled through more than 350 pieces of evidence and days of CCTV footage collected from the whopping 120 cameras around the Hatton Garden building.
Luckily for them, detectives caught a huge break early on in the investigation: a white Mercedes with a black roof had passed by the building dozens of times during Easter weekend (aka the weekend of the heist).
The car, police quickly learned, belonged to none other than Kenny Collins. Using automatic license plate recognition, investigators traced the car back to Collins’ home and the small store where and Danny Jones bought the replacement pump (and used his real address on the receipt).
The men’s second mistake: using their cell phones right before the heist. But even as police began piecing everything together, they still didn’t have enough evidence for an arrest. So, what did they do? They began bugging their suspects’ cars and following them around everywhere.
The thieves were trailed everywhere, and police were astounded by what they found. Three of the thieves (Jones, Collins, and Perkins) were recorded a few times bragging about how they completed the heist, what they stole, and how they were going to get rid of the stolen goods.
“The biggest robbery in the f***ing world … we was on,” Perkins was recorded saying while drinking at his local bar. But even with endless amounts of incriminating recordings, police still didn’t have enough to arrest the thieves. “It obviously is good,” one of the investigators said in 2016.
“But you have to say to yourself, ‘What would happen if we lost this [evidence]? We’ve still got to have a case without it,’” he continued. If investigators didn’t have enough evidence, what was stopping the thieves from saying that they were just making up stories to impress their friends?
To catch these thieves, police needed to find the stolen goods. Once the heat of the investigation died down, the robbers planned on selling the jewels for cash to fund their pensions and provide for their family. But the robbers’ biggest mistake of the entire heist was letting Kenny Collins handle the logistics of selling their jewels.
The day after the heist, Collins hid some of the stolen goods in casserole dishes in his kitchen cabinets but gave most of it to “Billy the Fish” Lincoln—the brother of Collin’s girlfriend. Apparently, Collins had told him everything.
And to make things worse, Lincoln was even more careless than Collins. Not only did he trick his nephew into transferring the goods to his house in a taxi, but the handover point was in a parking lot under dozens of CCTV cameras. After finding footage of the handoff, the police were finally ready to make some arrests.
On May 19th, just after ten in the morning, police stormed 12 houses, all at the same time to make sure that no one would get away. In one house, they found Perkins, Jones, and Collins red handed.
The three thieves were sitting around a dining room table with a smelter set up so they could melt down their millions of dollars’ worth of jewels. Perkins and Collins were immediately arrested, while Jones tried to make a run for it. He only made it a few feet into the back garden before he was taken down.
Even still, the thieves thought they could outsmart investigators. Once they were all in custody, the men pretended to not know each other. “They’re old, experienced criminals, obviously, so the drill if you’re an older criminal is not to say anything, keep your mouth shut, and just see what opportunities there are to get out of it,” one of the investigators said.
But then police decided to play recordings of the men blabbing about their accomplishments. That’s when the criminals knew it was over. Collins didn’t even ask for bail and instead asked for a cup of tea. “He knew he was never going to get bail,” the police recalled.
“When you listen to them discussing it, I think, they’re quite comfortable in the fact that they’re in their older years, white-haired old men—nobody’s going to look at them,” one of the investigators, Jamie Day, said in 2016.” We’re driving around in a little car here, two old boys.”
“Who is going to stop us? The police aren’t looking for us. They’re looking for the fit, able people who have committed this.” But after being presented with hours of recordings and the CCTV footage, the thieves had no choice but to plead guilty.
“They were analog criminals operating in a digital world and were no match for digital detectives,” Peter Spindler, the head of the investigation, said. Most of the gang of thieves, nicknamed by the press as the “Diamond Weezers,” were sentenced to prison.
Brian Reader, the ringleader who left the heist early, served only three years due to his prostate cancer and having a series of strokes while in jail. Kenny Collins, the getaway driver and look out, was sentenced to seven years in prison but was released in 2018 after serving only half of his sentence.
Danny Jones was also sentenced to seven years behind bars for his involvement in the heist. While in custody, Jones reportedly wanted to “come clean” and return his share of stolen goods. So, he wrote a letter to the press, offering to show police where he had hid it all (which ended up being in deceased family members’ graves).
Terry Perkins, unfortunately, died from natural causes while in prison. He suffered from diabetes and several heart problems. Carl Wood, who also up and left in the middle of the heist, was handed a six year sentence for his part in the robbery.
Billy the Fish, aka Collins’ friend who helped hide the loot, was slapped with a seven-year sentence. As for Basil, he was known as the one who got away. For years, police struggled to figure out who he was. Well, that is until 2018.
Unlike his associates, Basil, whose real name is Michael Seed, did not come from a criminal background. His father is a biochemist at Cambridge and growing up, he was a very bright kid. But after being caught with LSD, Seed was jailed for three years and soon disappeared from public life.
“I’ve always worked in the black economy,” Seed told the jury during his court hearing. “I don’t pay tax, and I don’t claim benefits.” Seed had no bank account, nor did he ever really go outside. Seed was identified by the end of 2015, but it took three years for police to track him down.
When they raided his apartment in north London, police found over 1,000 items from the Hatton Garden heist. Seed was arrested and sentenced to 10 years in prison for his part in the heist.