How a group of elderly men carried out the biggest diamond heist in British history

That’s one way to get in.
That’s one way to get in.
Image: Metropolitan Police
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The masterminds behind the “largest burglary in English legal history“ have finally been convicted. The group of men, aged between 47 to 76, were found guilty of stealing some £14 million ($20 million) in jewels, gold, and cash.

Police and security were shocked at the scene of a supposedly secure underground vault in London in April of last year. At the storage site in Hatton Garden, the center of London’s jewelry trade, the vault was covered in dust and debris. Amid scattered safety deposit boxes and power tools (they bored a hole through the vault’s wall), there was little forensic evidence to identify the “brazen burglars” who cleaned out the joint.

Four leading members of the gang.
Four leading members of the gang.
Image: Metropolitan Police

The heist has captured Britain’s imagination: the ingenuity of the plan, the age of the burglars, and the reason for their eventual downfall has shocked and amused the country in equal measures.

These are the eye-catching details of the case:

  • The alleged ringleader, 76-year-old Brian Reader (nicknamed “The Master”) used his senior citizen’s bus pass, which gives him free travel, to get to the crime scene.
  • The heist was three years in the making. The gang apparently hatched the plan in a pub in North London.
  • The gang disguised themselves as workmen. A man known only as “Basil” let them into the building via a fire escape. Then, they climbed down an elevator shaft and spent the next two nights breaking into the vault.
  • The loot was loaded into a getaway van and stashed in various hideaways, including a casserole dish and a cemetery.
  • While the gang removed closed-circuit cameras from inside the building, they failed to account for video in the street. Police were able to trace the car of one of the burglars—75-year-old John “Kenny” Collins, who reportedly frustrated other gang members for falling asleep during his lookout.
  • Police then set up a massive surveillance program, tracking the suspects closely. Remember the pub they hatched the plan in? Police recorded them there admitting to, and bragging about, the raid.
  • Police found a copy of Forensics for Dummies at the house of one of the gang members.

The police have been able to recover some of the stolen loot, but two-thirds of it remains hidden. Most of the gang has pleaded guilty to their charges, and the only one who didn’t was found guilty by a jury.

They were “analogue criminals operating in a digital world,” according to a former investigator. The heist is “probably the last of its type.”