All that glit­ters

FIND­ING A STASH OF GOLD BULION SOUNDS LIKE ANY CRIM­I­NAL’S DREAM. BUT FOR 12 CROKS AND ONE OFICER, THE GLIMERING SPOILS OF THE BRINK’S- MAT HEIST PROVED TO BE NOTH­ING MORE THAN A GOLDEN CURSE

Real Crime - - Brink’s- Mat Robbery -

– Found shot dead in South London, ly­ing in his black Range Rover. He had wounds to his head and chest. His killer

has never been traced.

John Marshall

Laun­dered money through Euro­pean drugs runs

05/ 1996 out and Noye man­aged to run back to them. He grabbed a gun, which Reader had car­ried out and re­turned to the slumped fig­ure in black. “Who are you? Take that mask off.” Ford­ham said he was SAS and started to re­move the mask, re­veal­ing a sickly, whiten­ing face. Noye or­dered Brenda to call an am­bu­lance and to get a cam­era to get proof of his own in­juries – he had been cut by Ford­ham – and to show the ap­pari­tion he had been pre­sented with in his own gar­den. Po­lice backup ar­rived – Mur­phy had ra­dioed for help. Ford­ham was taken to hos­pi­tal where he was de­clared dead.

John Ford­ham was the first in the long line of deaths con­nected with the Brink’s- Mat raid, but Noye would not be con­victed of his mur­der. At his trial later in 1985 he ar­gued – suc­cess­fully – that he had acted in self- de­fence. A jury ac­quit­ted him of John Ford­ham’s killing.

How­ever, Noye would not evade jus­tice for­ever. In 1986 he was found guilty of han­dling the stolen bul­lion – 11 of the gold bars had been found at his home – and was sentenced to 14 years in prison. He would serve eight years of his sen­tence.

His wife opened the door. it was a young man with a ques­tion for char­lie. the asasin shot wil­son twice in the heaD

Brink’s Jinx

– On a yacht in Corfu when he tried to stop raiders steal­ing his dinghy. Shot three times, in­clud­ing a fa­tal stom­ach wound. The ‘ curse’ of the Brink’s- Mat rob­bery may have been some­thing in­vented by re­porters, but the fact was peo­ple who came into con­tact with the heist, the gold or its af­ter­math started to die.

Char­lie Wil­son made his name with per­haps the 20th cen­tury’s most fa­mous blag – The Great Train Rob­bery in Au­gust 1963. He man­aged to es­caped after be­ing im­pris­oned, only to be re­cap­tured and im­pris­oned again and then re­leased, after which he moved to the Costa del Sol in Spain.

Wil­son was or­gan­is­ing a drugs im­por­ta­tion busi­ness – co­caine, heroin and dope – into which some of the Brink’sMat for­tune had been in­vested. In 1990, a large ship­ment went miss­ing, mean­ing some im­por­tant crim­i­nals were out of pocket – by mil­lions.

In April that year, as Wil­son was slic­ing cu­cum­bers for a salad in his kitchen in his chalet near Mar­bella, his wife an­swered a knock at the door. It was a young man with a base­ball cap who had a ques­tion for Char­lie. She let him

– The for­mer po­lice of­fi­cer was be­ing in­ves­ti­gated by de­tec­tives. Shot him­self as they ap­proached his house for ques­tion­ing. in. The young as­sas­sin shot Wil­son twice in the head and made his es­cape on a moun­tain bike. Jack Slip­per, the for­mer Scot­land Yard de­tec­tive, who hunted the Great Train Rob­bers, said he was “sur­prised and sad­dened” by Wil­son’s mur­der. “I thought he was one of the sen­si­ble ones who had served his sen­tence and was go­ing to live a quiet life.”

Later in 1990, a Ken­neth Noye as­so­ciate, Nick Whit­ing, was taken from his garage in Kent. He had pre­vi­ously been in­ter­ro­gated by de­tec­tives over the laun­der­ing of Brink’s

Mat gold. Word was that he had ‘ opened up.’ His corpse was found at Rain­ham Marshes in Es­sex. He had been stabbed and shot.

Then came the demise of ‘ mil­lion­aire busi­ness­man’ Don­ald Urquhart, who was walk­ing out of a pub with his girl­friend in Maryle­bone, London, in Jan­uary 1993 when a hired killer by the name of Graeme West ran up to him and fired three bul­lets into his head be­fore mak­ing his es­cape.

West was later caught and sentenced to life in prison. He had been paid £ 20,000 for the hit and used a gun sup­plied by

Keith Hed­ley

Home searched for stolen bul­lion

26/ 09/ 1996

Syd­ney Wink

Gun­smith

08/ 1994

na­home saw the gun­man and ran to his front door, but the mo­tor­cy­clist drew a gun and pumped four bul­lets into him

an­other Brink’s- Mat char­ac­ter for the killing. That man was Syd­ney Wink, a for­mer Metropoli­tan po­lice of­fi­cer turned crim­i­nal. Some said he had been the source of the weapons used by the Brink’s- Mat raiders. In Au­gust 1994, de­tec­tives in­ves­ti­gat­ing their for­mer col­league ar­rived at his Es­sex home and found him dead. He had shot him­self in the head.

Around this time but un­con­nected with Wink’s death, Ken­neth Noye was re­leased from prison. His name would soon en­ter Bri­tain’s con­scious­ness. In May 1996, after be­ing freed from prison on li­cence, Noye lost his tem­per after be­ing cut up on the M25 near Swan­ley in Kent. He and the pas­sen­ger of that car, Stephen Cameron, started ar­gu­ing, then fighting. Noye re­trieved a knife from his car and stabbed the 21 year old, leav­ing him dy­ing in his girl­friend’s arms.

Noye was spir­ited out of the coun­try by his old con­tact John ‘ Goldfin­ger’ Palmer. He was flown by Palmer’s he­li­copter to north­ern France then by Palmer’s jet from Paris to Madrid then Tener­ife. Noye then dis­ap­peared. But the blood­shed con­tin­ued. Days after Noye’s road rage stab­bing, John Marshall, a South London car dealer, left his home to meet ‘ busi­ness ac­quain­tances’. He was found shot dead in his Range Rover in Sy­den­ham. It later emerged that he had sup­plied Noye with stolen ve­hi­cle li­cence plates and pa­pers. His killer has never been traced, but Brink’s- Mat writer Wens­ley Clark­son sug­gests Marshall also had con­tacts within the Brink’s- Mat gang and per­formed runs to and from the Nether­lands im­port­ing ec­stasy.

Then an­other Noye as­so­ciate met a sticky end. Keith Hed­ley had lived near Noye in the years after the heist. Po­lice had even searched his home dur­ing the Brink’s- Mat inquiry. There was talk that at some point he had looked after some of the bul­lion for the Brink’s- Mat gang. In Septem­ber 1996 Hed­ley was aboard his yacht in Corfu when, ac­cord­ing to his guests, he heard peo­ple try­ing to steal his dinghy. He got his gun, fir­ing shots into the air as a warn­ing. Gun­fire was re­turned and he was felled, hav­ing been hit twice in the shoul­der and once fa­tally in the stom­ach.

Was this the work of Al­ba­nian pi­rates? Or had he known too much? Or had some of the Brink’s- Mat bul­lion or cash gone miss­ing? Soon, sus­pected killers would also add their names to the dead list of Brink’s- Mat.

Danny Roff was nick­named ‘ Scar­face’ and was the prime sus­pect in the mur­der of Char­lie Wil­son – The Great Train Rob­ber and un­for­tu­nate drug im­porter – in Spain in 1990. In­sid­ers claimed he had also helped to laun­der the Brink’sMat gold. There had al­ready been an at­tempt on his life in 1996. He was now paral­ysed, leav­ing the gang­ster con­fined to a wheel­chair after be­ing shot four times in a night­club in New Cross, South East London.

In 1997, as he pulled into his large home in Brom­ley in Kent, he was shot again by a wait­ing as­sas­sin. The gun­man and his ac­com­plice sped away in a white van, the doors still flap­ping. Paramedics treated him at the scene and took him to hos­pi­tal, where he was de­clared dead.

In Novem­ber 1998 Hat­ton Gar­den jew­eller and sus­pected Brink’s- Mat money laun­derer Saul ‘ Solly’ Na­home ar­rived back at his home in Finch­ley, North London. Ac­cord­ing to press re­ports at the time, a hel­meted man was wait­ing by a mo­tor­cy­cle. Na­home saw him and ran to his front door, but the mo­tor­cy­clist drew a gun and pumped four bul­lets into him. It ap­peared to be an­other gang­land hit.

Next on the death list was one of the six Brink’s- Mat raiders. Al­though he was one of the gang of six on that Novem­ber morn­ing in 1983, Brian Perry had not been con­victed of the rob­bery. He was jailed for nine years for han­dling stolen goods – the bul­lion. He was shot three times out­side his taxi firm in Ber­mond­sey, South London in 2001. It had all the hall­marks of a con­tract killing. Two men, aged 21 and 22 were charged with his mur­der, but they were cleared half­way through their trial due to in­suf­fi­cient ev­i­dence.

In 2003, Ge­orge Fran­cis, a man who was said to have been en­trusted with £ 5 mil­lion of the bul­lion – who wasn’t able to re­turn it – was leav­ing his haulage firm in Ber­mond­sey, South London. He was shot four times and left draped in his Rover 75 car. Two hired killers were jailed four years later.

Es­caped pris­oner and con­victed drugs traf­ficker Joey Wilkins cut a dash on the Costa del Sol’s ex­pat so­cial scene. Tall and charm­ing, he was a dou­ble- cross­ing fraud­ster who was on the books of the Bri­tish se­cu­rity ser­vices. In pre­vi­ous years he had per­suaded some of his London- based con­tacts to in­vest their dirty money into a laun­der­ing scheme that was ac­tu­ally a com­plex ‘ re­verse sting’ run by the Bri­tish se­cu­rity ser­vices, nick­named ‘ Oper­a­tion Cot­ton.’ Later, a judge would de­scribe the whole oper­a­tion as il­le­gal and the pros­e­cu­tions against ten peo­ple col­lapsed.

In the late 1990s, Wilkins was be­ing used by Scot­land Yard and of­fi­cers from the US’s Drug En­force­ment Ad­min­is­tra­tion to lure Brink’s- Mat gang mem­bers to laun­der their bul­lion – some of which still bore the se­rial marks from be­fore the raid 15 years ear­lier. He told them a ‘ Colom­bian Car­tel’ would trade hot gold for white coke. Then, sud­denly, Joey Wilkins died. He was 68 and liv­ing in Estepona.

In his book, The Curse of Brink’s- Mat, 25 years of Mur­der and May­hem, Wens­ley Clark­son quotes a de­tec­tive as say­ing, “Joey pushed his luck. He was play­ing us all off against each other and one day his time was up. None of us were sur­prised but it was still very sad be­cause Joey was a one- off – a like­able, al­most lov­able rogue who could light a room up with his charisma, but the stupid old sod thought he was in­vin­ci­ble and that cost him his life.”

The fi­nal vic­tim?

Fi­nally, more than a decade later, it was John ‘ Goldfin­ger’ Palmer’s turn to be ex­e­cuted. Like some of the oth­ers on the roll- call of death, he had noth­ing to do with the ini­tial heist but found him­self in­volved and then en­riched by the scheme be­fore spend­ing the rest of his life watch­ing over his shoul­der. When asked what Palmer would have thought about the curse, his es­tranged widow Marnie said, “He would have laughed. He wouldn’t have be­lieved it.”

“It’s very much a myth, but the death count is in­ter­est­ing,” says Tom Mor­gan. “The link to Brink’s- Mat and John’s death is just as likely as any other. The fact that the value of the loot has es­ca­lated so rapidly to half a bil­lion would show it could be some­one still ag­grieved.”

The dic­tio­nary def­i­ni­tion of a curse is ‘ the ex­pres­sion of a wish that mis­for­tune, evil, doom be­fall a per­son’ but the Brink’s- Mat raid and the laun­der­ing of its bul­lion was not car­ried out by su­per­sti­tious men.

The Brink’s- Mat gang, or col­lec­tion of gangs, con­tained in­tel­li­gent, shrewd, in­no­va­tive brains – brains that could ex­e­cute the theft of £ 26 mil­lion of bul­lion, hide it from the au­thor­i­ties and then laun­der it into half a bil­lion pounds’ worth of as­sets and in­vest­ments.

Even so, be­ing a London gang­ster is a dan­ger­ous job. Per­haps some ended up on the death list be­cause of other dis­putes. Per­haps it was in­evitable that the crim­i­nals in­volved in the colos­sal Brink’s- Mat job had cho­sen a path in life that was des­tined to meet an early end. It just hap­pened to be the heist of the 20th cen­tury that con­nected their murky lives, the very same en­ter­prise that would ul­ti­mately link all of their un­timely deaths.

– Danny Roff was the hit­man be­hind a sus­pected five killings. He was shot dead – the sec­ond at­tempt on his life – athome in Kent.Danny RoffPos­si­ble hired asasin of Char­lie Wil­son24/ 03/ 1997

– Ar­rived back at his North London home to find a hit­man wait­ing by a mo­tor­bike. Na­home was shot four times, thekiller was never found.Saul ‘ Solly’ Na­homeMoney laun­derer27/ 11/ 1998

John Ford­hamUn­der­cover of­fi­cer on sur­veil­lance26/ 01/ 1985– Ford­ham sur­prised gang­ster Ken­neth Noye at night while on sur­veil­lance.He suf­fered ten stab wounds and died.

Char­lie Wil­son used to laun­der Brink’s- Mat money but then losta £ 3- mil­lion drug ship­ment– Gunned down at his Span­ish home after the killer was let in by his wife.23/ 04/ 1990

– Shot near his South London mini­cab firm. Joseph Pitkin and Bi­lal Akhtarwere later cleared of his mur­der.Brian PerryRaider16/ 11/ 2001

left Brink’s- Mat was a joint ven­ture be­tween the Chicagob­ased Brink’s se­cu­rity firm and London- based MAT Trans­port.Its ar­moured vans were seen all over the cap­i­tal, but the com­pany would for­ever be as­so­ci­ated with the 1983 raid

– Wilkins’ death has never been ex­plained. He was deal­ing with both the crim­i­nal fra­ter­ni­ties and se­cret ser­vices at thesame time.Joey WilkinsLaun­derer2007

– Shot six times by an un­known as­sas­sin in his gar­den in Es­sex after re­cently re­duc­ing his se­cu­rity team. His es­tranged wife Marnie says there is more chance offind­ing Lord Lucan than his mur­derer.John PalmerSmelter24/ 06/ 2015

– Sur­vived an as­sas­si­na­tion at­tempt in May 1985. Shot dead at his haulage firm by hired killers Ter­enceCon­aghan and John O’Flynn.Ge­orge Fran­cisLaun­derer14/ 05/ 2003

Don­ald Urquhart02/ 01/ 1993Money laun­derer– Walked out of London pub with Thai girl­friend when hired hit­man shothim three times in the head.

Nick Whit­ingSus­pected of han­dling bul­lion08/ 06/ 1990– Beaten, bound and gagged, Whit­ing was shot in the head. His body wasfound weeks later in Rain­ham Marshes.

aboveThe loot quickly be­came the hottest prop­erty in the world. That raiders were able to fence it away shows an in­ge­nu­ity that sur­passed even their au­dac­ity in raid­ing it in the first placebe­low- RightBoth the gold and the gang were spir­ited abroad, and de­tec­tives needed to round them up. Gor­don Parry was one of the han­dlers, pro­cess­ing around £ 7 mil­lion of the booty

above John Palmer ad­mit­ted smelt­ing the gold but the court be­lieved his claim that he didn’t know where it came from be­low CCTV footage of John Palmer hours be­fore his death in South Weald, Es­sex, in June 2015. He had re­cently re­ducedthe se­cu­rity around him ‘ Mar­ried To The Goldfin­ger Gang­ster’ – we speak to Marnie Palmer about her mar­riage to Brink’s- Mat crook John Palmer, and what hap­pened the day hewas shot. next is­sue

top John Ford­ham was the first to die, a year after the ac­tual raid. The un­der­cover po­lice of­fi­cer’s widow and son John pleaded with the pub­lic after his killing in Ken­neth Noye’s gar­den

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