A gang of burglars escaped with a "huge" haul of jewels and cash following a heist at a safety deposit centre in London's Hatton Garden jewellery quarter over the Easter weekend. Officers from the Met's Flying Squad are investigating the raid after police were called to the Hatton Garden Safe Deposit company in central London this morning.
The burglars used heavy equipment to break into several deposit boxes in a vault at the address over the Bank Holiday weekend. Boxes at the store are mainly used by Hatton Garden jewellers and gold dealers, with reports suggesting that up to 300 might have been broken into.
Norman Bean, who has a diamond ring and bracelets stored in one of the vaults, said the burglars are believed to have entered through a lift shaft on Friday afternoon and evaded detection by security guards.
He said: "I came down and spoke to a security guard today. He said he came on Friday, the alarm was going off. He went downstairs, looked through the door, through the windows and couldn't see anything and came out again, that was it. I said well 'why didn't you open up and have a look in?' He told me he doesn't get paid enough. They could have been there all weekend, who knows? It's disgrace, it's like something out of a film. I can't believe it could happen."
Bean said detectives told him he will find out tomorrow afternoon if his valuables have been stolen.
Diamond jewellery expert Lewis Malka, who works in Hatton Garden, explained that the boxes would mainly have been storing jewellery and loose diamonds in packets. He said: "From what I understand it happened over the weekend and it looked like they had come in through the lift shaft and gone into the basement where the safety deposit is. Most of the people who have got safety deposits there are people in the trade. I know for a fact that some of my work colleagues have got boxes down there and we are talking about hundreds and hundreds of thousands of pounds in goods.
He added: "The police aren't allowing anyone in yet, so no one is too sure whose box has or hasn't been touched. With the robbers having probably four days over the Easter weekend, there's a good chance that they went through everything."
Officers in forensic suits could be seen leaving the Hatton Garden Safety Deposit building with evidence bags and boxes. There was no visible damage to the outside of the property, other than a loose wire in the side of the door.
Thelma West, a gemologist, designer and private jeweller who works in London and Anwerp, tweeted: "Robbery at one of the biggest safe deposits in Hatton Garden over the Easter weekend. The loss is huge. A lot of jewellers and dealers put their stock in safe deposits over holiday periods. Easter and Pesach (the Jewish holiday of Passover, celebrated April 3 to 11 this year) meant very quiet Hatton Garden."
A Scotland Yard spokeswoman said: "At approximately 8.10 today police were called to a report of a burglary at a safety deposit business at Hatton Garden. The Flying Squad is investigating and detectives are currently at the scene. It appears that heavy cutting equipment has been used to get into a vault at the address, and a number of safety deposit boxes have been broken into. Enquiries are ongoing."
It is not the first time safe deposit boxes have been targeted in the Hatton Garden area, which is well known for its diamond and gold trade. In 2003 jewellery, cash and valuables worth an estimated £1.5 million were stolen when a criminal emptied a number of boxes at the Hatton Garden Safe Deposit Co after posing as a customer.
London suffered another famous safety deposit raid when the Knightsbridge Safe Deposit Centre suffered what is believed to be one of the largest robberies in history in July 1987. Two armed robbers asked to rent a safe deposit box and, after being shown into the vault, produced hand guns and made off with an estimated hoard of £60 million.
Valerio Viccei, the Italian mastermind behind the heist, was arrested as he returned to England to ship his Ferrari Testarrosa to Latin America and sentenced to 22 years.
Heavy equipment used in London safety deposit jewels heist
Client speaks of ‘extreme shock’ as police say 60-70 boxes rifled in Hatton Garden heist
Detectives investigating a major heist on a well-known safety deposit company in London believe up to 70 boxes were opened during the burglary.
The raiders escaped following the raid at Hatton Garden Safe Deposit company in London’s famous Hatton Garden jewellery quarter over the Easter weekend before police were alerted on Tuesday.
Those involved used heavy equipment to break into a vault containing several deposit boxes, mainly used by jewellers and gold dealers.
A forensics expert enters the Hatton Garden Safe Deposit Ltd store in London, UK, on April 7th, 2015, after a suspected burglary over the quiet Easter holiday weekend. Photograph: Andy Rain/EPATop London safety deposit firm burgled amid Easter quiet
A Metropolitan Police spokesman said on Wednesday: “This is a slow and painstaking process involving forensic examination, photographing the scene and recovering exhibits in meticulous detail in order to preserve the evidence. Officers anticipate this process to take approximately two days.
“At this stage it is believed that approximately 60-70 safety deposit boxes were opened during the burglary.
“Officers are working closely with Hatton Garden Safe Deposit Ltd to establish the identities of those affected. Police will be contacting victims directly as and when they are identified.”
Officers from the Met’s Flying Squad, which deals with bank heists and armed robberies, are investigating the incident.
One jeweller spoke of his “extreme shock” and said he feared a £5,000 (€6,900) watch he bought for his son on the day he was born might have been stolen.
Michael Miller, a jeweller from Knightsbridge, London, said he “felt sick” at the prospect of losing up to £50,000 of jewellery and watches during the burglary.
He revealed that his goods - like those of many with deposit boxes there - were not insured. “I can’t believe this has actually happened,” he said.
“If you look at their website, they say they are the safest place around. There is a double-door entry and a locked system to go in. You have to go through two doors to get in the place and then get into the vault.
“Most people who work here know us by face.
“I have a collection of watches I was going to give my son - and that is irreplaceable.
“I bought an IWC GST Aquatimer on the day my son was born and I was going to give it to him when he turns 18. They don’t make them any more.”
Mr Miller, who has held a deposit box with the company for almost 10 years, said he heard the thieves had “broken through a wall and got in that way”.
The deposit boxes were used by many jewellers in the area to store their stock at the end of the day, and some could be worth £1 million or £2 million each, he added.
Speaking about the security at the company, Mr Miller said he thought guards worked only “limited hours”.
Responding to suggestions that a security guard heard an alarm but did not carry out full checks, he said: “I suppose if an alarm did go off, someone should have checked it.
“Usually you go in and open up and do a visual inspection. I came here because I thought it was the best. I am extremely shocked.”
Mr Miller said investigators inside had been taking lists of names and box numbers of depositors, and that he had been told another team of police forensics officers was due to arrive.
Uniformed police stood guard inside the door of the Hatton Garden Safe Deposit company on Wednesday as staff and deposit box holders went in and out of the building.
A number of depositors looked anguished at the possibility of their loss.
One man who asked not to be named told journalists he had not been given any information by the company and that he was “very disappointed” at what had happened. Another man said he felt “horrible and sick” at the theft.
A jeweller and diamond dealer who has worked in the street for more than 30 years said there was “clearly room for improvement” for security at the company.
The man, who declined to be named, said he previously had offices above the deposit company but moved out after a burglary in the building about six years ago.
He suggested it was likely most people with boxes there would have insurance, but there would be “quite a few exceptions”.
He said: “I think it is because people will want to save on the cost of insurance because it is an additional overhead that they can do away with.
“There is no system of vetting the contents of a box, so anything can be put in there.
“The deposit company doesn’t know what is in there, but they presume by virtue of the fact that we are in a jewellery area of London it will be jewellery-related stock.
“It will be finished pieces of jewellery as well as unset gem stones.”
The man, who has a deposit box with a different company nearby, said the process of getting one would likely involve giving formal identification and a utility bill, “probably not dissimilar to getting a mobile phone, I presume”.
He added that annual rent for a deposit box would depend on its size, costing up to £500 for a big one.
Neil Duttson, a diamond dealer who buys stones for private clients, said tracing any gems stolen in the heist would be nearly impossible.
He said: “Once diamonds have been re-cut and polished there is no geological map.
“I imagine they will be sat on for six months. You can expect some cheap diamonds will be coming on the market soon.”
Police said heavy equipment was used to break into the vault, but one jeweller in the area said local residents had been sent a letter telling them any works they might hear could be from the nearby Crossrail project.
Another jewellery dealer was fuming as he waited outside the building for news of his deposit box. The man, who asked not to be named, said: “It had happened three times now.
“If my safe is all right I am taking it out of there. My father had a box there and it is the second time since I have had one.”
His family have had a safety deposit box with the company for about 30 years, which he pays £300 a year for, and he spoke of his anger and frustration at the situation with the company.
He said: “I am relying on them. It is a joke. How could someone bring all that heavy equipment in?”
The man said police were stopping deposit box holders from going down to the safe room, which is in the basement.
A single diamond that is worth £500,000 is feared to be among the jewels taken from 300 safety deposit boxes that were emptied during a daring raid on an underground vault.
Thieves used specialist cutting equipment to carry out the heist over the Easter weekend in London’s Hatton Garden – famed worldwide as the centre of the country’s diamond industry.
It is thought the daring robbers broke into about 300 of the 600 safety deposit boxes in the vault through the lift shaft after evading security guards.
It was understood that the group had disabled a high-tech security system, but reports emerged today of alarms going off over the weekend.
Scotland Yard’s Flying Squad were alerted to the sophisticated heist at Hatton Garden Safe Deposit Ltd when business opened at 8am this morning…
Police officers checking the raided boxes in the vault of the Knightsbridge Safe Deposit Centre in Knightsbridge, London, in July 1987
A gang tunnelled into a vault holding safe deposit boxes in Baker Street, central London, in 1971
In July 1987 the Knightsbridge Safe Deposit Centre suffered what is thought to be one of the largest robberies in history (pictured). Two armed robbers asked to rent a safe deposit box and, after being shown into the vault, produced guns and made off with an estimated hoard of £60m. Valerio Viccei was sentenced to 22 years
In 2003 jewellery, cash and valuables worth an estimated £1.5m were stolen when a criminal, posing as a customer, emptied a number of boxes at the Hatton Garden Safe Deposit company