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

Metropolitan Police
That’s one way to get in.
By Aamna Mohdin
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

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.

Metropolitan Police
Four leading members of the gang.

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 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.
  • 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.

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.”

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