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
– 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.
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
– 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
Home searched for stolen bullion
26/ 09/ 1996
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