In November 2000, the Millennium Dome, that much maligned London Docklands white elephant that has cost its fair share of political scalps, was once again thrown into the glare of the media spotlight, when a smash-and-grab robbery, worthy of the best James Bond plot, was foiled by London police.
The plan, carefully orchestrated by local villains Lee Wenham, Raymond Betson and William Cockram, was to conduct a ram-raid on the De Beers diamond exhibition being held in the Dome at the time, and to make off in a speedboat, down the Thames, with a £350 million haul of diamonds on display. The Millennium Jewels collection included the Millennium Star, a 203-carat, flawless gem that is considered one of the most perfect in the world, as well as eleven other priceless blue diamonds. These jewels had played a central role in the spectacular laser light show that took place in the Dome during the Millennium festivities.
6 November 2000 - Heist abandoned due to tide7 November 2000 - The Millennium Dome Heist
"bring em in"
Two of the ‘likely robbery days’ resulted in aborted attempts. On the first, in early October, the boat was malfunctioning and on the second attempt, the day before the actual robbery, they misjudged the tides, which were too low to ensure a safe getaway, and they aborted at the last minute, although the police took the precaution of substituting the real gems with the fake crystals. The police were convinced that the next day, 7 November 2000, would be the heist day, and the Dome was flooded with undercover policeman, disguised as Dome employees.At 9.30 am that morning the plot was afoot, with all of the villains in place. Meredith in the getaway boat on the Thames outside the Dome, Millman in a van nearby, and four more men in a JCB earth-digger, which would be used to break through the perimeter fence and punch a hole in the side of the Dome itself. The occupants of the JCB were in body armour, wearing gas masks and armed with smoke bombs, sledgehammers and nail guns to penetrate the security glass protecting the exhibit.
Having successfully broken through into the vault area using the JCB, and discharging their smoke bombs, the police overwhelmed the gang through sheer force of numbers. They were able to apprehend most of those involved, seven in all, without firing any weapons, including the boat pilot, Millman in his van, and a number of others who were waiting further downriver in Kent.The largest robbery in history was over almost before it had begun and the real Millennium Jewels were nowhere near the Dome at the time. Disruption to the public was restricted to the temporary closure of the North Greenwich Underground station, and later that morning the Dome was opened for visitors as usual.
The Usual Suspects
Fortunately for the police, the gang members involved were well known to them and already under surveillance for their suspected roles in a number of unsuccessful armoured vehicle robberies. Wenham was the first to exhibit an unusual interest in the diamond display at the Dome and when partners in crime Betson and Cockram were also observed loitering around the same exhibition and taking video footage, in early September 2000, police began to suspect that the display was to become yet another of their targets.At this point, surveillance of the men was increased substantially and the Dome itself was placed under close watch. Police were able to narrow down the number of likely days an attack might take place and the Dome management, as well as De Beers, were alerted to the likelihood of an attempted robbery. As a precaution, crystals of the same size and shape as the genuine Millennium Jewels were created, so that the real stones could be stored elsewhere.
As the surveillance net was extended, with up to 100 officers involved in the operation, the other members of the gang became known to the police, and included convicted felons Terry Millman, entrusted with procuring the getaway speedboat, Aldo Ciarrocchi, and Bob Adams, who was the last to join the gang. Kevin Meredith, the boat pilot, who did not have a criminal record, later claimed that Millman had coerced him into assisting with the heist.
The Key Figures
Meet the Gang
Gang Members:Lee WenhamRaymond BetsonWilliam CockramTerry MillmanAldo Ciarrocchi BobAdams Kevin Meredith
The case did not come to trial until exactly a year later, on 8 November 2001, and only six of the original gang were in attendance at the Old Bailey, as Terry Millman had died of cancer earlier in the year. Despite having been caught red-handed, the case took three months to hear, and the jury were unable to return a unanimous verdict. The main point of contention was the distinction between stealing and the more serious robbing, which implies stealing with force. None of the gang had been armed and no shots had been fired at all. The judge was forced to accept a majority verdict after more than a week of deliberations and the men were found guilty on 18 February 2002. Public opinion seemed to be equally split between admiration for their audacity and disbelief that such a plan could ever have succeeded.
Raymond Betson and William Cockram were jailed for 18 years each, Aldo Ciarrocchi and Bob Adams for 15 years, and Lee Wenham was jailed for nine years for masterminding the robbery. Kevin Meredith, the speedboat pilot, was jailed for five years for conspiracy to steal, despite his coercion claim.The movie potential for the story surrounding the events that made up the Millennium Dome heist was quickly recognised. United Kingdom production company, Working Title, are developing a project called 'The Rip', which will use the events as a focus, and Brad Pitt is also rumoured to have expressed an interest in fronting a film about the heist.It would appear that the fate of the Millennium Dome villains has not deterred others from attempting to get their hands on the 203-carat Millennium Star. In November 2005, the Natural History Museum in London was forced to close its 'Diamonds' exhibition, in which the gem was one of the star attractions, as Scotland Yard had again received credible intelligence that it was again the target of a criminal gang.