The Hatton Garden Heist And The Elderly Thieves Who Made It Happen

Who loves a good caper? In April of 2015, six professional thieves broke into the Hatton Garden Safe Deposit Company in London and made off with some £14 million ($19,470,000 million in U.S. dollars) in valuables after raiding around 70 safe deposit boxes. The theft was carried out à la Ocean's Eleven, using master planning and intricate tools to rob one of London's most historic jewelry hot spots. Named for Sir Christopher Hatton, Hatton Garden actually dates back to medieval times and has long been notable for the "master-craftsmen," Warrior monks, Italians, and most recently Chasidic and Orthodox Jews who have traded there for generations. The safe deposit company was quite ripe for the picking.

Who better to pull off such a daring robbery than a gathering of professional thieves with decades of experience? These elderly gentlemen bandits were indeed slick: they were able to access the safe deposit boxes without actually entering the company's building, reports City Jam. They also dared to return a second time after accidentally setting off an alarm. And most notably, the men stole not just cash but also hard-to-track jewelry, precious stones, expensive watches, and other carefully selected items. Although they were caught after selling some of the loot for a mere fraction of what it was worth, only a small portion of the goods have been recovered to this day. Read on for the intriguing story of the Hatton Garden Heist.

The heist at Hatton Garden unfolds

On the evening of April 2, 2015, five men emerged from a white van in front of the Hatton Garden Safe Deposit. Carrying bags, garbage bins and tools, the group approached the fire escape and were met by a mysterious red-haired man who led them inside. Once in, reports ITV, the men disabled an elevator, climbed down the shaft to the basement, and accessed the vault of the safe depository using a Hilti DD 350 drill to bore their way through a nearly 10-foot thick wall. Once inside, the thieves ransacked numerous safety deposit boxes before departing. But of course there's more to the story.

Let us begin with the alarm, which went off while the thieves were still in the vault. Company owner Alok Bavishi thought little of it, since an insect had triggered the alarm before. And when security guard Kelvin Stockwell showed up almost an hour later, police concluded there was no reason to investigate. The thieves, meanwhile, ran into a roadblock when they encountered an unmovable cabinet and left with no loot. Two days later however, the robbery was still undetected as the group returned, accessed the vault a second time, and hit the jackpot. Two more days went by before the theft was discovered. Authorities were astounded to find that technically, the burglars robbed the vault without directly accessing the building itself. Prosecutor Philip Evans proclaimed the robbery "to be the largest burglary in English legal history."

Brian Reader: 'The Master' of the gang

Upon viewing security film of the heist, the ever-polite authorities gave the unidentified thieves the quaint names of "Mr. Ginger, Mr. Strong, Mr. Montana, The Gent, The Tall Man, and The Old Man." Former bank-robber-turned-good-guy Noel Smith also viewed the footage. He predicted the thieves would "be a crew made up of foreign nationals, likely Eastern Europeans and Israelis, who have never met and are together for this one job." But Smith wasn't even close. The leader of the gang turned out to be 76-year-old Brian Reader of Kent, who had already helped steal £26 million worth of gold back in the notorious 1983 Brink's-Mat robbery

Called "The Master" and "The Governor" by his fellow gang members, Reader spent eight years in prison for the Brink's-Mat robbery – although he was acquitted of any involvement in the subsequent murder of an investigating detective. A true professional, he spent over three years planning the Hatton Garden Heist. He also studied up on diamonds so he would know what to take, and even practiced a dry run with the rest of the gang. He also sported a jaunty red scarf for the heist. Notably however, Reader declined to attend the second night of the robbery; it was too risky. Reader's son, Brian "Paul" Reader, was initially suspected of being involved, but was later released.

Daniel 'Danny' Jones had a rich crime background

Sixty-year-old Danny Jones's criminal record dated clear back to 1975, and in 1982 he was convicted of stealing £92,000 from Ratner's jewelers. And as recently as 2014 he had burgled the Chatila jewelry shop, the very place where actor George Clooney's wife, Amal Alamuddin, purchased her pearl and diamond earrings for her wedding. Friends called Jones eccentric, even a madman, who claimed he could tell fortunes, talked to his dog like it was a person, and occasionally went to bed wearing "his mother's dressing gown with a fez on" when he wasn't sleeping on the floor Army-style. So it's really no surprise that Jones's elaborate outfit for the robbery included "striped trousers, a hi-vis waistcoat, red trainers, and a navy baseball cap."

Like Brian Reader, Jones had studied for the Hatton Garden robbery by reading Forensics for Dummies, a book about crime scenes. Afterwards, he could be heard bragging, "The biggest cash robbery in history at the time...that's what they are saying...what a book you could write!" Jones later offered to take the police to where his part of the loot was hidden in a cemetery, but only showed them a meager fraction of the stash. The Independent later revealed the authorities found a second cache with "Cartier watches, loose gems, large quantities of cash, and various items of jewelry." Still, the find amounted to only about £613,000.

John 'Kenny' Collins was the lookout

John "Kenny" Collins (pictured on right, with Michael Seeds) was 74-years-old at the time of the Hatton Garden robbery, with a criminal record already spanning over 50 years. His comrades said he was "wombat-thick," while the BBC reported that Collins was "instrumental" in making several reconnaissance trips to study the crime scene and also purchased the extra equipment to access the vault. He also brought on his nephew, William Lincoln, "as a getaway driver" as well as another man, Hugh Doyle. The night of the burglary, Collins drove a van to Hatton Garden Safe Deposit dressed as a "building worker" to serve as a lookout. 

Collins remained in the van all night and, according to Danny Jones, "fell asleep on the job." He was also arrested just a short time after receiving his part of the stash, which the police described as "a large amount of cash, wrist watches, coins, jewelry, and a money counter." Collins's lawyer later verified that his client "was 'petrified' of being caught by the authorities." Collins would later blame Brian Reader for "abandoning" the gang after the failed first night of the heist, telling the Daily Star, "Common sense said we got to go back and give it another half hour...But he pulled out of it. Maybe if he didn't, none of us would have got nicked."

Terrence 'Terry' Perkins committed robberies on his birthday

Terry Perkins, described by a former cellmate as "one of the very old-school London criminal gents," first made news for his part in an armed robbery of a Security Express depot in 1983—on his 35th birthday. Although he was able to purchase some real estate, he was later caught, found guilty, and sentenced to jail. Amazingly, he escaped in 1995. Not until 2012 was Perkins caught again, serving the rest of his time until he was released just before the Hatton Garden Safe Deposit heist. He also bragged that he had worked with Brian Reader on four other robberies over a dozen years

Like others in the gang, Perkins arrived at the Hatton Garden scene disguised as a building worker, says Today Online. And after that first robbery attempt failed, he returned with his comrades two days later for the second, successful attempt—this time, on his 67th birthday. Unbeknownst to Perkins, however, investigators later installed a bug in his car (yes, you can do that in England) and listened in as he expressed a wish that he had taken a selfie in the vault and planned to melt some of the gold from his share of the loot to supplement his pension. Before he could melt anything, however, police found jewelry and cash stashed at his home.

Michael 'Basil' Seed disarmed the security system

Michael "Basil" Seed, the college-educated son of a university professor, was only 54-years-old at the time of the Hatton Garden robbery. He had only two brushes with the law: a 1984 arrest for LSD and cannabis, and an acquittal in the case of the Chatila jewelry store robbery in which fellow robber Danny Jones was arrested. But although Seed had met Brian Reader some years before, he preferred to stay well under the radar and tinkering with his "electronic gadgetry" in his apartment.

It was Seed who accessed Hatton Garden Safe Deposit "using a set of keys" of all things, to disable the security system and open the fire escape door for his fellow robbers. He was also the last thief to be caught; for three years, the authorities only knew him as "Basil," which some mused stood for "best alarm specialist in London." Seed remained hard to track since he paid no taxes and rarely used a bank account, but when the police caught up with him they found "£143,000 worth of gold ingots, gems, and jewelry in his bedroom." Seed vaguely explained that he might have been out of town during the time of the robbery; also that when Kenny Collins dropped off the loot at his apartment, he didn't know the items were stolen. "With hindsight, I should have asked," he said.

William 'Billy the Fish' Lincoln moved the goods

Identified as the younger nephew of Kenny Collins, 60-year-old William Lincoln (pictured) was known as "Billy the Fish" due to his regular Friday visits to Billingsgate Fish Market. His record was clean, other than once being convicted of beating a man with a chair. Lincoln later admitted he was "not the sharpest knife in the drawer," a claim backed by his defense which claimed he was "easily influenced by others" and "never refused anyone anything." Not surprisingly then, it was Lincoln who served as a getaway driver at Hatton Garden Safe Deposit and had "a major role" in disposing of the loot following the robbery.

Lincoln would later testify that the bags of goods given to him by Collins were only filled with legitimate "bric-a-brac," but the New York Post says the gang split the loot between "Lincoln's unknowing nephew" and their own homes before going to the Old Wheatsheaf Pub to celebrate. Police later found a paper in Lincoln's car bearing the address of the pub. By the time of his trial Lincoln had a number of health issues and was unable to work, but he denied knowing anything of the robbery or the stolen goods.

Hugh Doyle and Carl Wood were accomplices

Aside from the six ringleaders in the Hatton Garden Safe Deposit robbery, two other men were eventually pegged as accomplices. One of them was 47-year-old Hugh Doyle (pictured), a "plumbing engineer" who was assigned to "provide an exchange point" for the stolen goods. But although Doyle claimed to know nothing of the robbery, it was he who gave Kenny Collins a key to the robbery scene "to let himself in and make coffee." "I feel sorry for the victims of—from what's happened," he told a film crew in 2016, "because people's lives have been devastated here, but I obviously didn't know, you know, what was happening."

57-year-old Carl Wood was also eventually accused of "conspiracy to commit burglary and conspiracy to conceal, convert or transfer criminal property." But although he needed the money to support his disability income, Wood received nothing from the robbery. Why? Because like Brian Reader, he pulled out of the second robbery attempt when he became leery after finding the fire escape door inexplicably locked. The Guardian reported that the other robbers were heard having "a foul-mouthed" discussion about Wood's actions following the heist.

Police tracked down every clue they could find

Long before they knew who the perpetrators were, authorities thoroughly searched through the crime scene. At consideration was that Hatton Garden Security Deposit Limited was housed in the same building as several other businesses with a "communal" entrance. It wasn't hard to see the thieves had accessed the vault wall via the elevator shaft leading to the basement, where they drilled a hole for access. Detective Paul Johnson described the interior of the vault as "chaotic," with dust, debris, tools and safety deposit boxes strewn about. And the neighborhood thought nothing of the sounds of a drill, having been previously informed that construction would be going on in the area, reported the Independent

There were other matters to consider as well: there were no fingerprints at the scene of the crime, and the "hard drives" of the security cameras were missing. A fire which broke out around the same time as the robbery was a suspected link, but the authorities later said the two events were unrelated. There was, however, some footage the burglars missed, showing them "wearing high visibility jackets and pushing a wheelie bin" before leaving the scene in a white van. Detective Craig Turner explained it would take "hours of forensic work and inquiries" to put the puzzle together, while Johnson "refused to elaborate" on why police declined to investigate when the alarm first went off.

Police track down their suspects

BuzzFeed confirms the thieves may have been meticulous, but they failed to consider the security camera footage on the streets surrounding Hatton Garden Safe Deposit. On April 10, The Mirror released a video showing the robbers wearing wigs, caps, hard hats, face masks, jackets and other items as they loaded the loot out of the building. Most telling was the white van pulling up in front of the building, as well as another vehicle: a "unique" white E200 series Mercedes with a black roof. The licenses of both cars were visible, and the Mercedes was eventually traced to Kenny Collins. Within two weeks, the police had managed to install listening devices into the two cars owned by Collins and Terry Perkins.

Now, authorities could trace the men's calls on their personal cell phones, mapping where and when they met, as well as when they planned to divvy up the loot. Meanwhile, public sentiment rose for those whose safe deposit boxes were robbed. Many of them were local jewelers whose goods were uninsured. Graeme Trudgill of the British Insurance Brokers' Association surmised that the victims "could be left millions of pounds out of pocket." And finally, Metropolitan Police Service commander Peter Spindler publicly apologized for failing to check the alarm when it went off. Spindler and his crew made up for the error by catching all but Michael Seed, who remained unidentified, as the stash was delivered to Collins.

The arrests and convictions of the Hatton Garden Gang

A ninth robber, Jon Harbison, was arrested after the initial roundup of the Hatton Garden thieves. He was released, however, when his partner was able to show 15-year-old photos of a family member wearing the alleged stolen jewelry. Meanwhile, the rest of the gang pleaded guilty and thanked the judge when he sentenced them to only "six and seven years each." The Daily Mail predicted they would be out in less than four. The judge was perhaps lenient since Brian Reader suffered a stroke while in prison, and besides, these burglars were all elderly. Notable too is that Hugh Doyle received no jail time. He was fined £367.50 instead.

One of the issues remaining at hand was that of the £13.69 million stolen, only a bit over £4.32 million had been recovered. So, soon after sentencing, a judge handed down a caveat to the inmates: pay compensation totaling £27.5 million, "based on their available assets," or spend another seven years in prison. For some of the older, unwell robbers, that was quite possibly a life sentence since some of them were likely to die before their sentence was up. And when Michael Seed was at last caught in March of 2018, he was eventually sentenced to a total of 18 years. For the Hatton Garden Safe Deposit burglars, crime definitely did not pay.

The aftermath of the Hatton Garden Heist

The Guardian reports that Hatton Garden Safe Deposit was forced to close "after trade dropped off in the wake of the high-profile theft." The closure came as police continued working to find some of the owners of the stolen items, many of which were not or could not be identified by their owners. 

In 2018, Terry Perkins died in prison, Brian Reader was released after "a series of strokes," and Danny Jones had three more years tacked on. Although Kenny Collins was released after serving half of his sentence, he was ordered to pay £7,635,233.31. When he couldn't, he was ordered to serve seven more years. Collins appealed but lost.

In the end, only Hollywood won in its own quirky way. Producers quickly grabbed the story and ran with it full force. By 2016 the first of several films, Hatton Garden: The Heist was in theaters. The following year came The Hatton Garden Job, with a third movie on its heels. Originally titled Diamond Wheezers, then Night in Hatton Garden, the name was finally changed to King of Thieves and was released in 2019 starring British actor Michael Caine. Then there was ITV's mini-series, Hatton Garden, which also premiered in 2019, and finally Hatton Garden: The Inside Story for those wanting to watch a documentary about the whole debacle. We have yet to see any reviews by the infamous Hatton Garden gang.