The story of the largest gold heist in British history is a cautionary tale about how tenuous the concept of 'honour amongst thieves' is, especially when the prize is worth a staggering £26 million. However, it seems there was stupidity on all sides. Despite the short sightedness of some of the criminals involved, throwing around money like water, the police nevertheless failed to catch the majority of those involved in the raid and subsequent distribution, nor have they ever managed to recover the bulk of the bullion.
At 6.30 am on 26 November 1983, a South London gang of six armed robbers, headed by Brian Robinson and Mickey McAvoy, broke into the Brinks Mat warehouse at Heathrow Airport, expecting to make off with about £3 million in cash. Inside help was provided by Anthony Black, a Brinks Mat security guard who happened to be living with Brian Robinson’s sister at the time. Black’s information gave the gang quick access to the site, where they overpowered the guards and encouraged them to provide the combination to the safe, by pouring petrol over them and threatening to set them alight.
Black’s information also assisted with the disarming of a vast array of electronic security systems and, when the safe was finally opened, the expected piles of easily transported cash turned out to be 6,800 gold bars divided into 76 cases, as well as a stash of £100,000 worth of cut and uncut diamonds, all bound for the Far East. It quickly became apparent that the transport of many tonnes of gold would be challenging, and the quick 'smash and grab' became a protracted operation, as several members of the gang were sent to seek sturdier transport. The gang used the warehouse’s forklift truck to load the gold into the getaway van but it still took them almost two hours to clear the safe of its contents. By 8.15 am they left the Brinks Mat warehouse, and the alarm was raised by one of the guards at 8.30 am.
The conversion of £26 million worth of bullion into cash was to prove a major headache for the gang and they were forced to approach a senior underworld figure, known only as 'The Fox'. He had the necessary gangland connections to smelt down and distribute the gold, specifically with the assistance of the Adams family, one of London’s most notorious crime syndicates. They recruited a jeweller named Solly Nahome, who agreed to sell on the smelted down goods.