Under the cover of darkness, the robbers forced their way into the facility with the help of security guard Anthony Black, who was later found to be complicit in the crime. Once inside, the gang doused the staff with petrol and threatened them with a lit match, demanding access to the vault’s combination numbers.
Their initial plan was to make off with £1 million, but to their surprise, they discovered a staggering three tonnes of pure gold bullion, worth £26 million (equivalent to £93.3 million in 2021), outside the main vault. The gold, which belonged to Johnson Matthey Bankers Ltd, had been stored at the warehouse overnight and was due to be shipped to Hong Kong the following day.
Along with the gold, the robbers made off with platinum, 1,000 carats of diamonds, and $250,000 in traveller’s cheques. Despite the subsequent arrests and convictions of Micky McAvoy and Brian Robinson for armed robbery, most of the gold has never been recovered. The losses were eventually covered by Lloyd’s of London, and the case has been linked to several shooting deaths over the years. The audacity and scale of the crime earned it the moniker “the crime of the century.”
Couple’s tip-off ignored by police after £26 million heist.
Two days after the infamous bullion robbery, a couple claimed to have witnessed a suspicious activity in their neighbor’s garden hut near Bath, Somerset. The couple immediately contacted the police suspecting a connection to the robbery, but the police deemed it outside their jurisdiction and passed on the information to the responsible authority. However, the couple were never asked to provide evidence in court or give a statement to the police. The police later discovered that Brian Robinson, who appeared in Flying Squad intelligence files, was linked to the robbery, Robinson and Micky McAvoy were arrested ten days later. Anthony White was also arrested but was acquitted later.
John Palmer, a jeweler and bullion dealer, was identified as the occupier of the raided premises in Bath where a furnace was found in January 1985, but he was on vacation in Tenerife at the time. His former partners, Garth Chappell and Terrence Patch were arrested. Police also received information about the sudden movement of £13 million through branches of Barclays Bank in the Bristol area. It was alleged that the Bank of England informed the police, although the Bank denied this.
Kenneth Noye was recruited by Brian Perry and George Francis to dispose of the gold. Noye melted down the bullion and recast it for sale, disguising the source by mixing in copper coins. He was later placed under police surveillance and encountered undercover Detective Constable John Fordham in January 1985. Noye claimed that he had acted in self-defense and killed Fordham, but he was found not guilty of murder at the trial. Brian Reader, who was also at the scene, was acquitted of murder.
In 1986, seven men, including Noye, Reader, Chappell, and Patch, were put on trial for handling the stolen gold. Palmer was deported from Brazil in 1986 and put on trial in 1987 but was cleared of all charges. John Fleming, another suspect, was held in Miami in 1986 and deported to the UK in 1987 but was released due to insufficient evidence.
In 1988, nine people, including Perry, solicitor Michael Relton, and McAvoy’s wife Kathleen, were arrested for conspiracy to handle stolen goods. Perry was accused of laundering £7.5 million, and Relton was accused of bringing smuggled money back to the UK to invest in London’s Docklands property boom. The jury failed to reach a verdict for Perry, who faced a retrial. Property developer Gordon Parry was also arrested in Fuengirola, Spain, in 1989 and charged with handling over £16 million. He was later tried with Perry, McAvoy’s first wife Jacqueline, Patrick Clark, and Jean Savage in 1991. The jury failed to reach a verdict for McAvoy, but her house was seized.
The Story of the Brink’s-Mat Robbery and its Aftermath
In 1983, the infamous Brink’s-Mat robbery shocked the world when thieves stole three tonnes of gold bullion from Heathrow Airport. The heist, which netted a record £26 million, made headlines for years as authorities struggled to recover the stolen gold and bring the perpetrators to justice.
Despite a reward of £2 million offered for information leading to the recovery of the gold, much of it has never been found. Only £1 million of gold was found stored at the Bank of England. In 1996, about half of the gold that had been melted and recast was thought to have found its way back into the legitimate gold market, including the reserves of the true owners, Johnson Matthey. Shockingly, some have claimed that anyone wearing gold jewellery bought in the UK after 1983 is probably wearing Brink’s-Mat gold.
Attempts by one of the robbers, McAvoy, to strike a deal to give back his share of the money in exchange for a reduced sentence failed, as by then the money had vanished. Meanwhile, Lloyd’s of London made a record insurance pay-out of £26 million.
By 1995, 57 people had assets frozen, including homes and a Kansas oil well, and insurers had recovered £16 million, including £3 million from Noye. In January of that year, the High Court ordered McAvoy to make a payment of £27,488,299, making him responsible for the entire sum stolen. White, who was acquitted of robbery, was also ordered by the High Court to repay the stolen £26 million plus £2.2 million in compensation, and his wife was ordered to repay £1.1 million. The judge said that he was satisfied that White was involved in planning the robbery. By 2004, a total of £25 million had been recovered.
In a bizarre twist, counterfeit gold bars bearing the refiner’s mark and serial numbers of bars stolen in the Brink’s-Mat robbery were recovered in Austria less than four weeks after the heist. The bars were gold-coated tungsten counterfeits, and the arrested men planned to fraudulently claim they were from the Heathrow robbery. No explanation was given as to how the counterfeiters obtained the unpublished bar serial numbers.