From handbags to push bikes, toiletries to packets of cheese, if it’s worth something, a thief will try and steal it. Most everyday thefts warrant very little attention outside of a local police station, though. But it’s not these common or garden robberies we’re concerning ourselves with here. It’s more the Hatton Garden type.
The jobs you’re about to read about here were no piffling shoplifting trips or low yield house break-ins. We’re talking about tens of millions of pounds worth of diamonds, gold bars, bearer bonds and bags stuffed with used bank notes being stolen.
These are Britain’s most lucrative ever robberies...
‘The World’s Biggest Mugging’ City of London Robbery
Ranking: #1Location: LondonYear: 1990Amount: £292m
What does the average mugger get after robbing someone? A few quid in cash, a locked phone and a disposable lighter, maybe. Big whoop.
What did Patrick Thomas get when he mugged 58-year-old John Goddard down a quiet London side street on the 2nd of May 1990? Only a shade off £300m...
Goddard was working as a messenger for brokerage firm Sheppards, delivering Bank of England Treasury bills around the city. When Thomas accosted him, he was carrying 301 bearer bonds, each worth almost a million pounds each.
It was the second largest recorded robbery of all time and all it took was a petty crook to flash a pocket knife at a man with a briefcase.
Authorities recovered all but two of the bonds and promptly caught Thomas. Before he could go to trial, he was shot dead by an unknown assailant, hinting at involvement from some rather serious organised crime figures.
The Knightsbridge Safe Deposit Centre Robbery
Ranking: #2Location: LondonYear: 1987Amount: £60m
Lifting £60m in cash from a bank vault isn’t an easy task. It is, however, made quite a lot more straightforward when the boss of the place is in on it with you and helps organise the job and shuts down the CCTV for you.
The Managing Director of the Knightsbridge Safe Deposit Centre Parvez Latif was a heavy cocaine user in a significant amount of debt. The man needed money. Lots of money. Luckily (or unluckily), Italian bank robber Valerio Viccei was happy to help.
After the robbery, Vicceo fled the country but was soon apprehended after police found his fingerprints at the scene. He was sentenced to 22 years in prison (Latif and two other men were also charged), the majority of which he was allowed to serve in an open prison in Pescara, Italy. In April 2000, Vicceo was shot in a gunfight with police during day release.
The Securitas Depot Robbery
Ranking: #3Location: Tonbridge, KentYear: 2006Amount: £53m
It’s not necessary to have the boss of the place on your side though, of course. An inside man can be created. Just ask the men behind the infamous Securitas Deposit Robbery. They kidnapped the security depot manager Colin Dixon, along with his wife and child, at gunpoint while posing as police officers. Dixon then assisted them in making off with more than £50m.
Wearing rather odd prosthetic disguises, the gang stuffed the cash into their lorry after holding the place up with an assortment of weapons (handguns, Skorpion machine pistols, pump-action shotguns and AK-47 assault rifles). They made off with over £53m, but could’ve taken a further £150m… Only they ran out of room in their getaway lorry.
Seven men have since been arrested, charged, tried and imprisoned for their part in the heist. £21m of the money was later recovered.
The Graff Jewellers Robbery
Ranking: #4Location: LondonYear: 2009Amount: £40m
Jewellers Graff are an extremely high-end jewellery company with a flagship branch on New Bond Street in London. In 2003, a raid saw thieves from the Pink Panthers international jewel thief network escape with more than £23m worth of precious gems. But Graff is no stranger to high-profile and high-value robberies...
Six years later, they were targeted again. This time a whopping £40m of rings, bracelets, necklaces and wristwatches were stolen by a group of men wearing professional prosthetics and make-up (they told the make-up artist it was for a music video).
Ringleader Aman Kassaye and nine other men were eventually arrested, with Kassaye getting 23 years. None of the jewellery was ever recovered.
The Northern Bank Robbery
Ranking: #5Location: BelfastYear: 2004Amount: £26m
We head to Belfast for the fifth biggest heist in UK history. On the 20th December 2004, two members of staff walked into the Northern Irish capital’s branch of Northern Bank, with a gang of thieves who made off with £26.4m in cold hard cash.
The staff members weren’t exactly in on the plan, though. At least, they weren’t copping a slice of the action, anyway. Their motivation for assisting the robbers wasn’t financial.
The men behind the robbery had paid visits to both staff members the day before and taken their families hostage. The demand was simple - help them escape with the loot and no one would get hurt.
Police have never arrested anything for the crime, but believe the Irish Republican Army to be responsible. The IRA have denied any involvement in the crime.
Other Noteworthy UK Heists
These notorious robberies didn’t quite make the Top 5, but they’re well worth a mention.
The Hatton Garden Jewellery Heist (2015) – £14m
Now, this is a little pedantic, but the famous Hatton Garden heist wasn’t really a heist, at all. Not technically. Nor was it a robbery. The notoriously - how should we put it? - ‘mature’ crew of Mr Ginger, Mr Strong, Mr Montana, The Gent, The Tall Man and The Old Man didn’t use weapons. Which is why the crime is officially known in police circles as ‘The Hatton Garden safe depositburglary’.
Now regarded as the largest burglary in English legal history, those responsible for the £14m theft were all caught, tried and sent down. A film of the crime was made in 2017 starring an ensemble cast of ageing actors. Amongst others, King of Thieves starred Michael Caine, Ray Winstone, Tom Courtenay, Michael Gambon, Jim Broadbent and Phil Daniels.
The Brink’s-Mat Robbery (1983) – £26m
The Heathrow International Trading Estate isn't the most glamorous place in the world. But on the 26th of November 1983, something happened that was straight out of a Hollywood movie.
In the wee small hours of the morning, six armed men broke into the Brink’s-Mat warehouse, expecting to rob the place of £3m in cash. There was no cash, though. Instead, they scurried away with seven thousand gold ingots, worth more than £26m (worth around £85m now). Not a bad night's work, they thought. But it wasn’t exactly plain sailing after that.
Fencing that much gold bullion was a tough job. And soon, people involved in the robbery started turning up dead. It seems that stealing £26m in gold has a ripple effect that can cause some seriously itchy trigger fingers.
The Great Train Robbery (1963) – £2.6m
£2.6m?! Pffft… That’s nothing! It might not sound much sat here next to some of these more impressive hauls, but back in the early 1960’s, it was a huge amount. The equivalent of more than £53m in today’s money.
The cash was nabbed after a 15-strong gang tampered with signals at the Bridego Railway Bridge in Ledburn, Buckinghamshire, causing an overnight Glasgow-to-London mail train to stop. Soon enough, the gang had made off with the used bank notes.
12 of the 15 men were soon caught, but one man (a certain Ronnie Biggs) famously escaped prison and fled to Brazil, had plastic surgery and remained a free man until heading back to the UK in 2001 and promptly being rearrested.