One last job: the inside story of the Hatton Garden heist

Who are the men who carried out the robbery of the decade? Crime reporter Duncan Campbell, who has followed some of them for decades, reveals their stories

No one wants to go to Woolwich crown court. It is an unprepossessing building in south-east London, right next door to Belmarsh high security jail, opened in 1993 as a more convenient place than the Old Bailey to try suspected terrorists and high-end villains. Reporters don’t like to go there, because it’s a long, dreary walk from Plumstead station. Barristers don’t like it, because there isn’t anywhere decent nearby for lunch. And the people on trial don’t like it, because an appearance in the dock there usually heralds a long stretch behind bars.

So it’s a pleasure, on the train from London Bridge one early September morning, to see the friendly and familiar face of Julia Quenzler, an artist with whose work the whole country is familiar, whether they know it or not. For the last 30 years or so, Quenzler has been illustrating the main criminal trials in Britain for the BBC and various newspapers. In the same way that squaddies used to joke that whenever the BBC’s war correspondent, Kate Adie, arrived on the scene, they knew things were hotting up, so, too, does the arrival of Quenzler and her ITN colleague, Priscilla Coleman, indicate that a big trial is kicking off.

Court artists have to work to a peculiar discipline. They are not allowed to draw in court, so they must observe, make notes about someone’s characteristics and clothes, and then retreat to a poky press room where they sketch and colour at high speed. This morning’s task is a difficult one, because there are nine accused in the dock and they are all behind a glass screen. There is a lot of interest in these men. Apart from the brace of artists, there are 18 reporters on the press benches, a score of solicitors and barristers, uniformed prison escorts, court staff and four officers from the flying squad, all wearing ties with its swooping eagle emblem. The court rises for His Honour Judge Kinch.

Top, left to right: Terry Perkins, John Collins, Daniel Jones and Brian Reader. Bottom, left to right: Hugh Doyle, William Lincoln, Carl Wood and the mystery man who hasn’t been found, ‘Basil’.
Top, left to right: Terry Perkins, John Collins, Daniel Jones and Brian Reader. Bottom, left to right: Hugh Doyle, William Lincoln, Carl Wood and the mystery man who hasn’t been found, ‘Basil’. Composite: Enterprise News and Pictures/Rex/Guardian

Enter the defendants. Yes, it’s Dad’s Army. The Diamond Wheezers. The Old Blaggers. Or, as they are in the French press, “le gang du papys” (the grandads’ gang). The men accused of taking part in the most spectacular British crime of this decade, the theft of an estimated £14m worth of diamonds, gold, jewellery and cash from the Hatton Garden Safe Deposit company over the Easter weekend of 2015. Some of them are hard of hearing and strain to catch what the judge is saying. Others nod ruefully at relatives or friends in the public gallery. Five along is Brian Reader, siting next to his son, Paul.

More than 30 years ago, while working on a book, I sat down in a restaurant in Islington with Brian Reader, a man called John Goodwin and their wives, Lyn and Shirley. The two men were old friends who had been accused of a number of thefts, of silver and diamonds from stores in Hatton Garden and Birmingham, charges to which they had pleaded not guilty and of which they would be acquitted. Goodwin was a well-known rascal at the Old Bailey, where a prosecution counsel had accused him of being “Mr Fixit”, although he was better known elsewhere as “The Face”; he famously caught out and exposed a bent cop who wanted money from him by hiding a tape-recorder in a Christmas tree at his home where the shakedown took place. Goodwin produced the subsequent incriminating tape in spectacular fashion during his trial; the case collapsed and the copper was arrested and jailed. Goodwin, whose name will pop up in the Hatton Garden trial, died not long ago. The last time I saw him, he had a pawn shop in Islington and joked that, if he had his time again, he would have gone into a legal job in the City: here you could get your hands on lots of money you hadn’t earned without any risk of jail.

Reader is an easy-going character, the antithesis of the criminal wide boy, still in touch with his old school friends, one of whom is loyally in the public gallery today. He has worked in both the haulage and jewellery businesses, and has a lively hinterland; he loves skiing and sailing. Back in the 1980s, he had been accused by a supergrass, Mickey “Skinny” Gervaise, of having taken part in a robbery. Reader jumped bail and went on the run in France and Spain before returning to Britain and eventually being acquitted.

But he came to public prominence as a result of his relationship with a man who would soon become notorious. On the night of 26 January 1985, Reader was present at the Kent home of Kenneth Noye, who, like Reader, was suspected by the police of receiving the stolen bullion from the 1983 £26m Brink’s-Mat robbery at Heathrow airport. On that night, Noye walked into his garden, came across a hidden, balaclava-wearing undercover officer called John Fordham and stabbed him to death. Reader, who has always said he was not involved in the stabbing, fled the scene, but was arrested later. Both men were charged with murder. At the Old Bailey in 1986, to the anger of the police, both were acquitted (Noye claimed self-defence); but both were later convicted of handling the Brink’s-Mat proceeds. Reader was sentenced to nine years.

The site of the £26m Brink’s-Mat robbery at Heathrow
The site of the £26m Brink’s-Mat robbery at Heathrow. Photograph: Daily Herald Archive/SSPL via Getty Images

After he was jailed, I interviewed Lyn, a smart and witty character who worked as a riding instructor, about her life as a prison “widow”. Lyn, who came from Dulwich, had met Brian when she worked for a turf accountants and was with him when he was on the run in France and Spain. “People think it sounds glamorous, but it was awful changing homes all the time,” she said. “I used to get plants and flowers whenever we went to a new place, to try and make it look like home.” She spoke about her dealings with the press. One of the papers had reported that, as Brian was sentenced, she had cried out, “I’ll wait for you, darling!” She told me, “I think if I’d actually said, ‘I’ll wait for you, darling’, Brian would have jumped out of the dock and punched me on the nose.” She turned down an offer of £1,000 from another paper that asked specifically for a photo of Brian drinking champagne.

Reader served his Brink’s-Mat time, returned to life outside, and went in to the secondhand car business and property development. He adored Lyn and was devastated when she died of cancer seven years ago. An avid crossword puzzler, he would write her pet name again and again instead of the answers to the clues.

Scroll forward to Easter 2015. A break-in at a Hatton Garden security deposit centre. How much stolen? £100m? £200m? Think of a number and double it. But whodunnit? Imaginative theories were rife, as were movie references. A spectacular “project” crime planned in detail is much like a film script, with roughly the same chance of coming off.

The headline of the Sunday Express on 12 April read: “Police Hunt Pink Panthers over jewel heist”; the story suggested that “the gem thieves may be part of the infamous Balkans-based Pink Panther gang (who got their name from the Peter Sellers Pink Panthers film)”. By 23 April, Ocean’s Eleven was part of the equation. The Daily Express asked, “Did £35m gem gang use a contortionist?”, speculating that there must have been someone similar to the Amazing Yen, played by Shaobo Quin in the film. The Daily Mirror reported that “an expert has revealed how a Mr Big is likely to have hired elite thieves from eastern Europe and Israel to pull off the operation”. The BBC broadcast a documentary that included an interview with media gangster Dave Courtney, who suggested that the stolen jewels might already have been smuggled out of the country stuffed “up a racehorse’s arse”.

Was the crime a metaphor for the decline of British ingenuity and skill? Did we now have to import not just our plumbers, IT technicians, doctors, nurses and footballers, but our criminals as well?

Then came the arrests of Brian Reader, 76, Terry Perkins, 67, Daniel “Danny” Jones, 60, and John “Kenny” Collins, 74, four career criminals from north and east London, along with five others. You could almost hear the collective sighs of relief: not only was this whole thing homemade, but it was carried out by a bunch of distinctly grey rather than pink panthers.

It was a complex operation. Five of the gang, including the ghostly figure of “Basil”, who has not been identified and on whose head there is now a £20,000 reward, gained access to the Hatton Garden Safe Deposit company and disconnected the CCTV and alarms. They started drilling their way through the 50cm wall while Collins acted as lookout man from a building opposite. They hit problems that meant they needed different equipment, so they left the building to get the necessary tools. At this stage, two of the team, Brian Reader and Carl Wood, decided that they’d had enough: the risks were too great. The others continued, grabbed around £14m in jewels, gold and cash, and bailed out. With the help of William “Bill” Lincoln, they got the goods to Enfield, where they were split up. It seemed, initially, that they had got clean away.

Much of the early coverage was affectionate. No one had been hurt or threatened. It was a commercial premises, not a private house. Some of the people who had lost their diamonds and gold in the haul tried to explain that they kept their goods there purely for safe keeping, and not to hide them from tax authorities, ex-wives or the police. But their side of the story was inevitably less interesting.


On that September morning, the 4th, Reader, Perkins, Jones and Collins all plead guilty; the others plead not guilty, and so there will be a proper trial in November. But why on earth were men in their 60s and 70s involved in such a high-profile crime? Was there an element of truth in the old cliche of “one last job”? Reader was an ill man, with prostate cancer and neutropenia, a blood condition that makes the sufferer susceptible to infections. In 2013, he fell out of a tree that he was cutting back on his property and fractured his neck. He had lost his beloved wife. Perhaps he felt he had nothing to lose.

But what about Paul Reader, his son, who was arrested with him? The last I heard of him, 30 or so years ago, he was a young stagehand at the Barbican theatre in London; it was clear that his parents did not want him to have anything to do with a criminal career. Since then, he had been in the car business with his father and living with him at their home in Dartford, after the break-up of a relationship. The night he was arrested in May was his first ever behind bars.

So what was he doing in the dock? Brian Reader, like many of his generation, was uneasy with new technology and did not own a mobile phone. When people tried to reach him, if he was not at home, they would ring Paul, whom they knew shared the house. Thus when the police started tracing the gang, they came across Paul’s number, even though his only role was to hand the phone to his dad.

Now Paul found himself cast in the role of a master criminal. He was held in Belmarsh, and it was three weeks before he was allowed contact with the outside world. Like his father, he had major health problems. In 2013, he suffered an aneurysm, and he has polycystic kidney disease. He spent his time in prison reading David Jason’s autobiography. (He might have noticed that Jason’s main career regret is that he did not get the chance to play the part originally offered to him in a television series called Dad’s Army.) It took months before the Crown Prosecution Service would accept Paul’s version of events and drop all charges against him, finally setting him free in early November.

“When I was arrested, I didn’t even bother to ask for a lawyer,” he told me over a coffee just after his release. “I even asked, ‘What is this about?’ I was dreading the interview, thinking it would be old-style, like Life On Mars, but it wasn’t like that at all. I think they were graduates.” His health deteriorated in Belmarsh and he had to be taken to hospital, handcuffed and accompanied by 10 armed officers and a helicopter. He said that the armed officers had wanted to be present for his Cat scan, but the nurse was adamant that they couldn’t be. “Eventually she told them, ‘Yes, you can – if you strip off.’ They declined the offer.”

As for the other names: who was Terence Perkins? Surely not the Terry Perkins last spotted in the dock for the 1983 Security Express robbery in Curtain Road, Shoreditch? Didn’t he have a dicky heart back then? It had been one of the biggest robberies of that decade, the cracking of a building nicknamed Fort Knox that was, in reality, the security industry’s equivalent of the Titanic. The robbers held up the staff with firearms, poured petrol over one recalcitrant and rattled a box of matches. Then they told them, “If you have to go on an ID parade, you’ll recognise no one. We know where you live.” They had adopted faux-Irish accents and called themselves Paddy One, Paddy Two and Paddy Three. As the robbers exited, they warned the staff: “We’ve got a man upstairs. He’s going to be there for 20 minutes just watching out for you. He’s got a shooter and he’s as fucking mad as they come.”

Afterwards, Perkins invested in property in Portugal, showing up at his accountant’s office with £50,000 in his anorak pockets. But the police were on to him and he was arrested at his home in Enfield. The story of the robbery appeared in a book, Gotcha, which lists as authors two of the criminals involved, John and Ronnie Knight, one of the detectives, Peter Wilton, and journalist Pete Sawyer. The subhead was The Untold Story Of Britain’s Biggest Cash Robbery: They Almost Got Away With It. The key word here is almost. Perkins and John Knight were jailed by Judge Lowry, who called them “two evil, ruthless men”. Perkins skipped out of Springhill open prison in 1995 and, despite police appeals for a man with “blue eyes and distinctive tattoos” – roughly half the expat English population of the Costa del Sol – remained on the run.

Erwin James, the former prisoner and Guardian columnist, remembers Perkins as a fellow inmate. “He was one of the very old-school London criminal gents. He was already wealthy with property when he did Curtain Road... a really warm personality. We were only opened for minutes at a time for grub and slop-out, but whenever we could, everyone met up for quick chats in Terry’s cell. He never looked that well – he said he had ‘a dodgy ticker’ – but he was a great character to be around. I feel sorry for him now.”

Perkins has, at least, kept his sense of humour. During an earlier hearing at Southwark crown court conducted over a dodgy video link from Belmarsh, he suggested that it would be simpler to meet face-to-face: “Could you ask the judge and yourselves to come down to Belmarsh and we can have tea together?”

Then there was Danny Jones, a mere boy at 60, but an experienced robber, an expert with keys, someone who often spoke about how much he would have liked to have been in the SAS. Having pleaded guilty, Jones decided to tell the police where he had hidden his loot, in Edmonton cemetery. Noting an apparent lack of interest on their part to act on this, Jones wrote to Martin Brunt, the crime correspondent at Sky News, and told him: “Whatever I get on judgment day I will stand tall, but I want to make amends to all my loved ones and show I’m trying to change. I no [know] it seems a bit late in my life, but I’m trying.” And try he did. The police went with him to the place where he had hidden his loot, in an in-law’s plot. Alas, for Jones, they found more of his ill-gotten gains in another plot he had perhaps forgotten to mention.

Gangster Billy Hill, who organised the Eastcastle Street post office van robbery in 1952
Gangster Billy Hill organised the Eastcastle Street post office van robbery in 1952, in which £287,000 was taken from the Royal Mail. Photograph: Popperfoto/Getty Images

The fourth of the main conspirators, Kenny Collins from Islington, is a break-in expert who had made money from football ticket sales and was, according to one former fellow inmate, “the man with the hardest head and the biggest heart in London”. He was always accompanied by his staffordshire terrier, Dempsey. All four plead guilty on 4 September (you get a third off your sentence if you do so at the first opportunity); and they will not reappear in court until they are sentenced in March.


It is just over 100 years since the great Hatton Garden pearl robbery took place, setting the scene for a century of such project crimes – high-profile thefts of large sums that require detailed planning and a team to carry them out. On that occasion, the target was “the most famous necklace of pearls in the world”, valued by Lloyd’s at £150,000. It had been sent from Paris to a Hatton Garden trader called Max Mayer, but when he opened the registered package, he found it contained 11 sugar lumps. The mastermind of this cunning plot was diamond merchant Joseph “Cammi” Grizzard, who was caught after a sting operation and given seven years’ penal servitude; shorter sentences in those days, but harsher regimes.

The last half-century has had a major project crime pretty much every decade. In 1952, it was the Eastcastle Street post office van robbery in central London. This was organised by the gangster Billy Hill and involved £287,000 being taken from the Royal Mail. The prime minister, Sir Winston Churchill, asked to be kept informed of the investigation on a daily basis, but no one was ever convicted – despite the fact that Hill, in his memoirs, pretty much admits to it. They rehearsed the hold-up outside London, telling curious onlookers that they were making a film. Press coverage, as of Hatton Garden, was a mixture of awe and condemnation. “It went off as smoothly as any of our commando raids during the war,” wrote one crime reporter admiringly.

In 1963, of course, there was the Great Train Robbery. Again, like Hatton Garden, the robbery provoked national astonishment. “We all have our benchmarks, and for us the benchmark was the Brink’s robbery in Boston in 1950, which was the largest robbery in the United States at that time,” wrote the man who planned it, Bruce Reynolds, four decades later. “We wanted to do something as spectacular as that. We wanted to draw our line in the sand. I was quite young at the time and I liked the challenge. I wanted to move in those circles. It’s insanity, of course, and we knew that we would be in the frame as soon as the robbery happened, but it’s the same madness, I suppose, that drives people to bivouac on the north face of the Eiger.”

But, like some of the Hatton Garden crew, they had left too many clues behind. The judge told them, as he sent them away for 30 years, that it was “a crime which in its impudence and enormity is the first of its kind in this country. I propose to do all in my power to ensure it is the last.” Not quite.

The next decade’s project was the Baker Street bank job of September 1971. As with Hatton Garden, a team settled in over a weekend to drill its way into safe deposit boxes in Lloyds bank; no violence was used and no one noticed until it was all over. This theft became a 2008 film, The Bank Job, starring Jason Statham and Saffron Burrows, and its publicity material suggested that “millions and millions of pounds” were stolen, but “none of it was recovered. Nobody was ever arrested.” All this was cheerful nonsense. In reality, four members of the gang were jailed in 1973 for a total of 44 years, and around £231,000 was recovered.

Police at the scene of the Great Train Robbery, 1963
Police at the scene of the Great Train Robbery, 1963. Photograph: Evening Standard/Getty Images

In the 1980s there was Brink’s-Mat and the Security Express job that Terry Perkins almost – almost – got away with, but there was violence and threats and death in the wake of those, and they never really captured the public imagination. The real “project” crime of that decade was the Knightsbridge safe deposit robbery in 1987, which had many of the features of the Hatton Garden robbery: safe deposit boxes burgled, wild speculation on the amount stolen – £30m? £60m? It had the added attraction of a flashy Italian playboy, Valerio Viccei, at its helm. And it heralded the arrival of the modern, multinational gang in Britain, involving as it did an Italian, Israeli, Pakistani and Russian, as well as homegrown criminals.

The Securitas robbery of 2006 represented a further step in the multinationalisation of British crime, with Albanian and Moroccan involvement. This was the robbery of £53m from the Securitas depot in Tonbridge, and the plot here was complex: robbers dressed as police officers captured the depot’s manager at gunpoint and held his wife and small son hostage while they used him to gain entry to the depot, tie up the employees and depart with a cry of “Let’s rock and roll!” The fact that a woman and child were involved meant there was little sympathy for the robbers; not too much romance in terrifying an eight-year-old and his mother. The first arrests came within two days, and by 2007 most of the gang were at the Old Bailey on trial. The main man was a less than charming cage-fighter called Lee Murray, who fled and used his joint Moroccan nationality to avoid extradition, but ended up in jail in Rabat anyway. A film? Maybe. Howard Sounes, who wrote the book Heist about the robbery, says it is now under option for a second time.

Plans for the Hatton Garden job were bouncing around for 18 months. Too many people had been asked if they would be interested in joining for it to remain secret for long. Some of the goods – a ridiculously expensive watch and some diamonds – have already been disposed of at a tiny proportion of their true value, creating a further trail. Anyway, the days of such high-profile blags have largely passed. Bank robberies and break-ins have declined, as security and technology advances – from 847 nationally in 1992, to 108 by 2012. In London, the numbers fell from 291 to 26 in the same period. That type of acquisitive crime has largely been replaced by cyber thefts. For an old-school crime such as Hatton Garden, there was a vastly depleted pool of the “usual suspects” to be put under surveillance.

So, given the risks, given the odds against getting away with it, why do it? Bruce Reynolds often pondered on this and would remark how “Nipper” Read, the dogged detective who tracked down the Great Train Robbers, told them he reckoned they would have done it even if they had known they were going to get caught. It was their “one last job”.

So here we are, back at Woolwich crown court on 14 November for the trial of Carl Wood, William Lincoln and Hugh Doyle, who are pleading not guilty, and Jon Harbinson, who is later acquitted. This is Hamlet minus the prince, minus Polonius – just a quartet of Rosencrantzes and Guildensterns.

Wood, bearded, bespectacled, reading the Daily Mail in the dock, is accused of being part of the gang who drilled their way in. Lincoln, big, burly, struggling to hear what is being said, is accused of being “a getaway driver”, essentially helping to transport the stolen goods. At the far end of the dock is Hugh Doyle, who is accused of helping to store the loot.

Doyle has just been granted bail and is happy to chat, albeit not about the case. He is a sprightly, bearded Dubliner of 48 who has a plumbing business called Associated Response and wears its uniform every day in the dock, as he is still doing work in the evenings and at weekends. He has a copy of Christopher Hitchens’s Hitch-22 in his hand. He turns out to be a Guardian reader and read Hitchens’s God Is Not Great in prison, where he found it helpful in discussions about religion with some of the al-Qaida inmates, who were more responsive to debate than he had imagined.

Doyle describes himself as a Catholic-atheist, although he cheerfully acknowledges that his Irish relatives are busy lighting candles for him. After his arrest, his mother in Ireland was asked by his uncle if she had “heard about Hughie” and assumed he had had a heart attack from overwork. When told of his arrest for involvement in the Hatton Garden burglary, her response was, “How would he have the time?”

Doyle came to London from Dublin as a 16-year-old. He initially squatted with friends in Belsize Park, north London, in one of the Iranian government’s abandoned houses, following the overthrow of the Shah, and later near Regent’s Park in a Chinese embassy building from which they were evicted (“They did allow us back in to get our snooker table, though!”). He found work in the printing business in the City but, wearied by the commuting, retrained as a plumber, which gave him more time at home with his family and their cocker spaniel. He even offered to look at my dodgy boiler.

Doyle had been with an 85-year-old Greek woman for whom he was doing plumbing work when he heard that the police wanted to see him. He knew Collins and some of the others because they lived and drank locally, but, like Paul Reader, imagined that he would be released at the end of his questioning; he was surprised to find himself in Belmarsh as a category-A prisoner.

“This whole thing has been an odyssey,” he tells me. He used his time inside to get fit, taught by long-term prisoners how to exercise in a confined space, has cut his weight from 13 stone, and says he can now do handstands against the wall. He goes for a run near the court before the trial starts each day.

A jury is empanelled, 11 of them swearing on the Bible, one on the Qur’an: six women, six men. First up, with the jury out, is a legal argument as to whether “probe” evidence – from bugs hidden by the police in the cars belonging to Perkins, Jones and Collins – can be used in the trial.

Careless talk costs lives. For many years now, the police have been permitted to plant bugs in the homes or cars of suspects. (This was one of the ways in which they finally nailed two of the murderers of Stephen Lawrence in 2012.) Jones, Perkins and Collins seem to have been completely unaware of this, and part of the evidence against them is contained in a sometimes darkly entertaining series of exchanges. A total of 14 extracts are now played to the court, mainly conversations between Perkins and Jones that sound much like one of the old Pete and Dud duologues of Peter Cook and Dudley Moore. What they say is difficult to make out and everyone struggles to hear.

John Collins, Terry Perkins and Brian Reader in the Castle pub, Pentonville Road, London.
John Collins, Terry Perkins and Brian Reader in the Castle pub, Pentonville Road, London. Photograph: Metropolitan Police/PA

“The biggest robbery in the fucking world we was on,” they chuckle, as they discuss how to dispose of the goods. “The biggest tom [jewellery] robbery in the fucking history of the world.” One of them plans to buy a flat and get a “monkey” (£500) a week for rent. Another wants to pay for his daughter’s holiday. Much of their conversation is taken up with castigating Reader and Wood for withdrawing from the burglary at the last minute: “Both as bad as the fucking other... bottle out at the last minute. Supposed to be a full-on face and this one you walk away from.” Derogatory remarks are made about most of their co-defendants, whom they refer to as either a “soppy cunt” or a “fucking idiot”. They make sarcastic remarks about Reader being a so- called “master criminal”. This leads to him being described as “the master” in the opening speech of prosecuting counsel Philip Evans, a description repeated in subsequent headlines; transcriptions of bugged conversations don’t do irony.

But there is one clue in the tapes as to what made them embark on it all: “If we get nicked, at least we can hold our heads up that we had a last go.” Ah, that last job. And a prescient comment, too, from Jones, as they reflect on past glories: “It’s a young man’s game.” As we hear police sirens going past their car, the men talk self-confidently about a gadget – “900 quid to fit it in your motor” – that will let them know when an Old Bill vehicle is within half a mile. Alas for them, the gadget doesn’t let them know that all of their vainglorious conversations are already being recorded by said Old Bill.

There has been much recent talk about whether the police should be required to have degrees. The same might be suggested for professional criminals, who would be taught that, apart from watching what they say in potentially bugged cars and abandoning their mobile phones on a daily basis, they should also be careful what they search for online.

After Jones was arrested, his computer indicated that he had been looking at “drilling online” and “drilltec” sites as far back as April 2012. And he had a book, Forensics For Dummies, which promised that “now everyone can get the lowdown on the science behind crime scene investigations”. No wonder he pleaded guilty.

Their lax behaviour amazed their retired contemporaries. “How on earth did they not know they would have been bugged? Why on earth did they have their phones with them?” a former burglar, who knew three of the burglars well, asked me. “Unbelievable.” Like good old-school criminals, they left no fingerprints, but forgot that the traces left by mobile phones and Freedom Passes linger longer than a thumbprint.

After a week of legal argument as to how much of these conversations should be included (most of it), the trial proper kicks off. Prosecuting counsel Philip Evans tells the jury they are trying the participants in the “largest burglary in English legal history”. It is a crime of “undoubted ambition”. The four who have already pleaded guilty are identified, and their mugshots and photographs of their homes and cars shown on screens.

The trial lasts longer than predicted. The evidence is mainly circumstantial: CCTV footage of a meeting in a pub car park in Enfield, ambiguous telephone conversations after the burglary. There are moments of levity: when Bill Lincoln is giving evidence about his alibi (buying fish at Billingsgate market on Good Friday), it transpires that he is known by friends as “Billy the Fish”; James Creighton, the mate he meets when he has his regular Turkish bath, and who gives evidence on his behalf, is known as “Jimmy Two Baths”. Both men, we learn, like “schmeissing”, a robust form of massage.

Carl Wood explains his association with Danny Jones by saying that they liked to go on walks where they would talk about “man things: boxing, keep fit, animals, hobbies”. Jones, we learn, liked wearing a fez and talking to his dog, Rocket. Doyle talks of his friendship with Kenny Collins and how in the past he had drunk with him, Perkins and Brian Reader in a pub called the Harlequin behind Sadler’s Wells dance theatre in London. Wood, Lincoln, Harbinson and Doyle deny any involvement, and are backed by their wives and partners in the witness box.

It’s hard to tell which way the jury will vote. On 14 January, we find out. Harbinson is found not guilty; the other three are convicted and will be sentenced on 7 March. Doyle was back at work fixing boilers this week, and when I spoke to him was as puzzled as many who watched the trial as to why he was convicted. As for Basil, one of the flying squad officers told me in court that they genuinely don’t know who or where he is.


The Hatton Garden burglars will swell the number of pensioners in prison; last year, the numbers of over-60s inside passed 4,000 for the first time, twice the number a decade ago. A few years back, I spoke to the former armed robber Patsy Feeley, who had suffered a stroke and was in a care home. “I miss prison in a way,” he said. “You know where you stand there. In care homes, it’s different.” At night in jail, he recalled, you could say goodnight to your friends and know that you would see them again the next morning. In care homes, there was a much smaller pool of people to get to know. The food was better in jail, too.

There will be books. In those bugged conversations, Jones remarks to Perkins, “What a book you could write!” In The League Of Gentlemen, the 1960 film starring Jack Hawkins, about a team of disgruntled ex-servicemen who carry out a robbery, there is a scene in which, as arrests become inevitable, one robber tells another, “Give them their money’s worth at the trial and then flog your memoirs to the Sunday papers.” In those days, you could do that. Under the 2009 Coroners and Justice Act, criminals are now officially forbidden from profiting from their crimes by writing about them. But if you can find your way through a 50cm-thick wall, you can probably find your way through a loophole. Meanwhile the underworld rumour mill busies itself about what past crimes the gang might have committed, which “moll” grassed them up, and how Basil’s identity was kept secret.

And, of course, there will be a movie. Carl Wood’s barrister, Nicholas Corsellis, in his closing address to the jury, suggested it might be called Bad Grandpas; this week British distributors Metrodome told Screen International that they were planning to make it. Meanwhile, Dad’s Army is being released as a feature film next month, with some of our finest senior actors involved. Perhaps, when they are decommissioned, they could slip into the roles of Perkins, Jones, Collins, Reader et al. And possibly John Cleese as Basil? There will be a fez, an episode in a Turkish baths, lots of drilling – and I’m willing to bet the first scene involves a graveyard and plenty of diamonds.


Duncan Campbell

The GuardianTramp

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‘He has the traits of a psychopath’: the inside story of the parachute murder plot
When experienced skydiver Victoria Cilliers’ parachute failed, it looked like an accident. But one man’s suspicions unravelled her husband Emile’s web of lies

Jenny Kleeman

14, Jul, 2018 @7:00 AM

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The criminal amnesiacs of Hatton Garden forgot that crime doesn’t pay | Nick Russell-Pavier
The robbery of safe deposit boxes was audacious but it followed a familiar pattern – poor planning for the inevitable aftermath

Nick Russell-Pavier

15, Jan, 2016 @7:40 PM

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Hatton Garden heist gang were inside building when police dismissed alarm
Metropolitan police investigate why alert was not acted upon as force releases images of scene following London robbery of valuables worth millions

Vikram Dodd

22, Apr, 2015 @12:57 PM

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Hatton Garden heist: the movie – exclusive leaked script!
The daring raid on the safe-deposit boxes in central London has all the elements of a proper gangster film. No one has been arrested. Our film critic imagines who’d star and how they’d pull it off...

Peter Bradshaw

24, Apr, 2015 @12:18 PM

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Hatton Garden heist film goes into production
Metrodome moves forward with film about the £14m London robbery, days after key figures in the raid were found guilty

Andrew Pulver

18, Jan, 2016 @2:13 PM

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Layla's story: jailed after reporting a sexual assault

In 2009, Layla Ibrahim told police she had been the victim of a savage sexual assault. So why did she end up in jail? Simon Hattenstone and Afua Hirsch investigate

Simon Hattenstone and Afua Hirsch

12, Aug, 2011 @10:02 PM

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Frank Calabrese Jr: the mobster who shopped his dad

Frank Calabrese Jr tells Ed Pilkington why he turned FBI informer – and betrayed his own father

Ed Pilkington

25, Nov, 2011 @11:00 PM

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'A true horror story': The abuse of teenage boys in a detention centre

The prison service and police knew of his interest in young boys. So how did Neville Husband get away with the abuse of teenagers in his care? By Eric Allison and Simon Hattenstone

Eric Allison and Simon Hattenstone

13, Apr, 2012 @10:00 PM