brink’s- mat bul­lion curse

When six men burst into a se­cu­rity ware­house, they were look­ing for a stash of used notes. In­stead, they found gold. the big­gest raid in Bri­tish his­tory would leave a trail of dead in its wake

Real Crime - - Contents - Words An­drew Sul­li­van

It was a £ 26 mil­lion score of the cen­tury for these crooks un­til, one by one, they started drop­ping dead

The as­sas­sin looked through the small hole he had drilled into the gang­ster’s fence. De­tec­tives would later say he had been spy­ing for weeks. His tar­get was ap­proach­ing, com­ing to just the right place, a blind- spot in the so­phis­ti­cated net­work of se­cu­rity cam­eras. The man in the ex­pan­sive gar­den was not old, but he was def­i­nitely slower after his re­cent surgery. Bri­tain’s rich­est gang­ster, they once called him. But that was years ago. And he had aban­doned a lot of that old pro­tec­tion with which had lived for the last 20 years. No longer did he wear a bul­let- proof vest, nor was he car­ry­ing a gun. His dogs, Rot­tweil­ers, were not here.

Now, at last, he was in the ex­e­cu­tion point. The killer leapt over the fence, drew his gun and shot the vic­tim three times. His tar­get slumped to the floor. The killer raised the gun once more and squeezed three more shots be­fore flee­ing. As life seeped from John Palmer, per­haps he knew why he was be­ing mur­dered. He had en­e­mies, not an un­der­state­ment to say thou­sands of them. Per­haps it was his time­share frauds, per­haps it was about a forth­com­ing trial. Or maybe it was linked to a rob­bery more than 20 years ear­lier. The big­gest heist of the 20th cen­tury. Mil­lions of pounds’ worth of gold taken and spir­ited away in what po­lice de­scribed as ‘ an au­da­cious raid’: Brink’s- Mat.

The man dy­ing in his gar­den had not been a raider, had not even known about the theft be­fore it hap­pened. But he was one of the many crim­i­nals who would later get drawn into the oper­a­tion to laun­der the loot. And John ‘ Goldfin­ger’ Palmer was yet an­other per­son­al­ity as­so­ci­ated with the raid who had met an un­timely end. The theft had been bul­lion. Its le­gacy was blood.

Bul­lion by ac­ci­dent

Unit 7, Heathrow In­ter­na­tional Trad­ing Es­tate in Houn­slow, West London, was as bleak in 1983 as it is for­get­table now. It stands among a col­lec­tion of large sheds made from brick and metal that store goods en­ter­ing, ex­it­ing or tran­sit­ing through the nearby air­port from which it gets its name. The Brink’s- Mat build­ing was as blandly anony­mous as the other ware­houses on the road, no vis­i­ble sign of the riches it con­tained in an ill- guarded vault. Soon after the half-

the brink’s- mat vault held gold – 6,800 bars in 60 boxes worth more than £ 26 mil­lion. The thieves loaded it into a van

dozen se­cu­rity guards ar­rived on Satur­day 26 Novem­ber, six raiders wear­ing bal­a­clavas and car­ry­ing semi- au­to­matic pis­tols and Brown­ing au­to­matic ri­fles burst in. One of the raiders smashed his ri­fle on a guard’s head and or­dered him to “lie still and be fuck­ing quiet”.

Bags were placed over the guards’ heads and soon they felt a liq­uid poured onto their groins. “Do you recog­nise that smell?” asked one of the raiders. “You’d bet­ter do what I say or I’ll put a match to the petrol and a bul­let in your head.” Two guards were dragged to the vault where they en­tered its com­bi­na­tion. Inside, the raiders had been ex­pect­ing to find a mil­lion pounds’ worth of used ban­knotes.

In­stead, the vault of Brink’s- Mat held gold – 6,800 bars in 60 boxes worth more than £ 26 mil­lion. The six thieves loaded the loot into a scruffy tran­sit van, a ve­hi­cle barely ca­pable of car­ry­ing the weight of the bounty, and es­caped.

“It was called the crime of the cen­tury for a rea­son. It was the most au­da­cious heist. I think it was the sheer scale that sent shock waves through the un­der­world,” ex­plains Tom Mor­gan, who co- wrote Goldfin­ger and Me with Palmer’s widow Marnie.

Brink’s- Mat was more than ten- times greater than The Great Train Rob­bery, and it dwarfed a £ 6- mil­lion East End raid from ear­lier in the year. Lloyds of London put up a £ 2- mil­lion re­ward the fol­low­ing day. The pres­sure was on the de­tec­tives to track down the band of thieves. “It was the hottest prop­erty in the world. The gold was sought- after, the stakes were raised and there was blood shed,” says Mor­gan.

The blood- let­ting would not start yet. In fact, it would be more than a year be­fore the first death. But the air of sus­pi­cion that en­gulfed the raiders and their con­spir­a­tors was there from the be­gin­ning. Po­lice looked im­me­di­ately at the se­cu­rity guards and dis­cov­ered that one of the men held up, Tony Black, was out of sight of the other five in the mo­ments be­fore the raid. He was also re­lated to a well- known London gang­ster, Brian Robin­son. Robin­son was an armed rob­ber who had man­aged to evade jus­tice with a mix­ture of luck and in­suf­fi­cient ev­i­dence.

Black was brought in for ques­tion­ing, and soon enough he iden­ti­fied three names: his brother- in- law, Brian Robin­son, and two crim­i­nals who were al­ready known to the po­lice: ‘ Mad’ Mickey McAvoy and Tony White. The last two were South London crim­i­nals well known to de­tec­tives. All three were ar­rested and even­tu­ally charged.

Se­cu­rity guard Black was sentenced to six years’ im­pris­on­ment. The judge said be­fore send­ing him down, “Never again will your life be safe. In cus­tody you will be seg­re­gated at all times, and you and your fam­ily will for­ever be fugi­tives from those you so stupidly and wickedly helped.”

McAvoy was the brains of the out­fit; Brink’s- Mat was his idea. Nearly a year to the day after the raid he was con­victed of rob­bery along­side his co- ac­cused Brian Robin­son. Tony White was ac­quit­ted. The po­lice had the raiders, but where was the gold?

The thieves had to spirit it away and rely on peo­ple who had noth­ing to do with the Brink’s- Mat raid. How do you make £ 26 mil­lion worth of bul­lion dis­ap­pear?

Ghost­ing away the gold

That was where Ken­neth Noye en­tered the pic­ture. He would later be known as Bri­tain’s most wanted man. But in 1984 he was a fence ( some­one who know­ingly deals in stolen goods), lit­tle known out­side his na­tive Kent.

A close friend of Noyes was seen buy­ing a smelter from a foundry in Worces­ter­shire, while neigh­bours of Noye’s par­ents would see the crim­i­nal visit them on Satur­days and ob­served him car­ry­ing what looked like bat­ter­ies in and out of his fa­ther’s garage from his pickup. A sur­veil­lance oper­a­tion on Noye be­gan. Teams fol­lowed him for weeks, even set­ting up watch out­side his home in West Kings­down, Kent, in Jan­uary 1984.

The Metropoli­tan Po­lice de­cided to raid Noye’s home. To do that, they needed to get into the ex­pan­sive grounds. Two of­fi­cers would do that. DC Neil Mur­phy was 37. He was ac­com­pa­nied by his po­lice men­tor, a 43- year- old sur­veil­lance of­fi­cer called DC John Ford­ham. It was only early evening, around 6.30pm, when in the dark the po­lice­men jumped over the perime­ter wall and made their way through the gar­dens of Noye’s prop­erty. They knew Noye was at home with his wife Brenda and his busi­ness as­so­ciate, Brian Reader, who would later mas­ter­mind the Hat­ton Gar­den heist.

Noye had two Rot­tweiler dogs that were alerted and started bark­ing vi­o­lently. Mur­phy started to re­treat, think­ing Ford­ham would do the same. But Ford­ham was get­ting in closer. Noye came out, search­ing with his torch when the beam of light came across a dark­ened fig­ure wear­ing a bal­a­clava. Noye would later say this bal­a­clava- wear­ing spec­tre hit him first. Noye dropped the torch and pulled a knife from his jacket – a blade he had been us­ing as a tool ear­lier in the day – and stabbed the on­com­ing spec­tre.

They car­ried on fighting, with Ford­ham even­tu­ally slump­ing to the ground. Reader and Brenda Noye had come

above The gold, di­a­monds and cash that was seized dur­ing the raid on 26 Novem­ber 1983 would have a value today of around £ 83.4 mil­lionbe­low- left The inside man: An­thony Black was the Brink’sMat se­cu­rity guard who po­lice col­lared within days. He gave up the names of the ring­leaders. Sentenced to six years, the judge warned him, “Never again will your life be safe”

above De­tec­tives des­per­ate to find the raided gold showed the press the hoods the guards were forced to wear and im­ages of the get­away van.The pres­sure was on – Brink’s- Mat was al­ready be­ing called ‘ the crime of the cen­tury’be­low- left Clues may have been scarce, but po­lice came to the right con­clu­sions quickly. They dis­cov­ered the ‘ inside man’ straight away and had al­ready as­sumed the raid was a pro­fes­sional job car­ried out by London un­der­world fig­ures

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