Baker Street robbery
Coordinates: The Baker Street robbery was a robbery of the safe deposit boxes at a branch of Lloyds Bank on the corner of Baker Street and Marylebone Road, London, on the night of 11 September 1971. The robbers had rented a leather goods shop named Le Sac, two doors down from the bank, and tunnelled a distance of approximately 50 feet (15 m) passing under the intervening Chicken Inn restaurant. To avoid being overheard they only dug during weekends. They used a thermal lance to try to break into the vault but ultimately had to use explosives.
Robert Rowlands, a radio ham operator, overheard conversations between the robbers and their rooftop lookout at about 11 pm. He contacted police and tape recorded the conversations while the robbery was in progress, but there was insufficient information to identify which bank was being robbed. At 2 am a senior police officer alerted radio detector vans to track down the gang. Police checked the 750 banks within 10 miles of Mr Rowlands' receiver, including the Baker Street bank. At the time, the thieves were still in the bank, but the police failed to realise the fact because the security door was still locked. The thieves got away with £1.5m cash (2010: £16.5m) and valuables from safe deposit boxes. The total haul was believed to be near £3m (2010: £33.1m).
It has often been reported that after four days of news coverage British authorities issued a D-Notice, requesting that such reporting be discontinued for reasons of national security and the story disappear from newspapers. It is claimed by national newspapers in recent years, that some of the security boxes contained embarrassing or nationally sensitive material and that the purpose of the request was to protect a prominent member of the British Royal Family. Rowlands, the aforementioned ham radio operator, claims that the police attempted to prevent him from talking to the press by means of the D-Notice, which he felt was an attempt to hide police incompetence. He also claims that police threatened to prosecute him for listening to an unlicensed radio station. An investigation some years later showed that a request had never been made to the D-Notice committee at that time. Furthermore, a D-Notice has no legal status, being a mere request and not a legally enforceable order. The Times newspaper was still reporting about the case over two months later.
Other recent reports suggest that the identity of the criminals and their sentences have never been revealed. However, The Times (amongst other newspapers) reported in January 1973 that four men had been convicted of the robbery at a trial at the Old Bailey. Three of these men were named as: Anthony Gavin, 38, a photographer from Dalston; Thomas Stephens, 35, a car dealer from Islington; and Reginald Tucker, 37, a company director from Hackney, who all pleaded guilty and who each received twelve years imprisonment. The fourth man, Benjamin Wolfe, 66, a fancy goods dealer from East Dulwich, pleaded not guilty but was subsequently convicted and received eight years. Wolfe had signed the lease on the shop used by the robbers. Two other men accused of handling banknotes from the robbery were acquitted. According to one press report, the police believed that the mastermind of the crime was another London car dealer who was never apprehended.
In popular media
A semi-fictional version of the robbery is the subject of the 2008 film The Bank Job, which explores another popular theory of the crime that argues the robbery was either set up by, or later covered up by, MI5 to secure sexually compromising photographs of Princess Margaret which were being kept in a deposit box at the bank by known radical Michael X. While this theory has usually been considered yet another urban myth, there have been some individuals, including George McIndoe, an advisor to the film who claimed to have knowledge of the actual robbery, purporting that this was indeed the real motivation for the robbery.
There are also some similarities between the robbery and Troy Kennedy Martin's 1975 episode Night Out for the first series of The Sweeney. The story sees Inspector Jack Regan holed up in a pub over Saturday night and Sunday morning waiting for a gang of villains who have broken through from the pub basement to the safety-deposit vault of the bank next door. Meanwhile the police are listening in to radio traffic between the robbers in the vault and the gang's spotter on the pub roof. Money is not the primary objective of the robbers. Instead they are after—and the Crime Squad want to capture them with—a mysterious envelope tied with seals and red tape that the gang's leader secures with a flourish at the climax of act II. By the end of the show, the Crime Squad superintendent has recovered all of the spoils; but a press enquiry "Were they after one particular thing?" is met with a curt "no comment"
On the episode commentary (2003), Troy Kennedy Martin is asked whether this was based on any particular crime, and responds "No. Just dreamed up," though he "can't quite think" of the genesis of it. Earlier in the commentary, producer Ted Childs notes that he once had a visit from the Home Office asking whether the show was paying criminals for information; but was able to reassure them that the show simply had young and imaginative writers.
The robbery also loosely inspired the plot of the 2001 comedy High Heels and Low Lifes starring Minnie Driver and Mary McCormack. Driver's character, a nurse, overhears chatter between a robbery gang and their lookout, and when her police report fails to stir any action, she and her friend (McCormack) track down the thieves and attempt to blackmail them.
- Lloyds Bank Map location
- Tom Pettifor (2008-02-16). "Bank job that opened the door on a royal sex scandal". Daily Mirror. Retrieved 2008-11-13.
- "Four jailed for London's biggest bank theft". The Times (27 January 1973), page 1
- "Revisiting the riddle of Baker Street." The Daily Telegraph (15 February 2008)
- "Untold story of Baker Street bank robbery." The Guardian (11 March 2007)
- "FOUND Radio Ham's sensational tape" The Daily Mail (16 February 2008)
- Duncan Campbell, Senior Correspondent, The Guardian, speaking on 'The Baker Street Robbery', DVD Group Inc production for Lionsgate Films Inc, 2008
- "£30,000 bail for man on bank raid charge." The Times (30 November 1971)
- "Businessman convicted over raid." The Times (24 January 1973), page 2
- "The Bank Job Files" The Mail on Sunday (24 February 2008)
- Lawrence, Will (2008-02-15). "Revisiting the riddle of Baker Street". London: The Daily Telegraph. Archived from the original on 13 March 2008. Retrieved 2008-03-17.
- The Sweeney, Euston Films, 1975. Episode commentary, Night Out, at 42:55. Released by Network DVD, 2003.
- The Sweeney, Euston Films, 1975. Episode commentary, Night Out, at 36:10. Released by Network DVD, 2003.