The Brink's-Mat robbery occurred at the Heathrow International Trading Estate, London, on 26 November 1983. £26 million (equivalent to £100 million in 2019) worth of gold bullion, diamonds, and cash was stolen from a warehouse. The bullion was the property of Johnson Matthey Bankers Ltd, which collapsed the following year after making large loans to frauds and insolvent firms. Two men were convicted, and the majority of the gold has never been recovered. Insurers Lloyd's of London paid out for the losses. Several deaths have been linked to the case, and there are links to the Hatton Garden safe deposit burglary in April 2015.
The Brink's-Mat robbery occurred early on 26 November 1983 when six robbers broke into the Brink's-Mat warehouse, Unit 7 of the Heathrow International Trading Estate near Heathrow Airport in West London. It was described as "the crime of the century".
The gang gained entry to the warehouse from security guard Anthony Black. Once inside, they poured petrol over staff and threatened them with a lit match if they did not reveal the combination numbers of the vault. The robbers thought that they were going to steal £3.2 million in cash, but they found three long tons (3,000 kilograms; 98,000 troy ounces) of gold bullion and stole £26 million (equivalent to £100 million in 2019) worth of gold, diamonds, and cash.
Two days after the robbery, a couple saw a white-hot crucible operating in a garden hut at a neighbour's property near Bath, Somerset. Suspecting it might be linked to the bullion robbery, they immediately informed the police. The police arrived and were shown the hut, but they said it was just beyond their jurisdiction and said they would pass the information on to the police responsible for that area. The couple were never asked to give a statement to police or give evidence in court. No explanation has been given for the police's failure to follow up immediately on the tip-off. Fourteen months later the premises were raided and the furnace was found. The occupier John Palmer, a local jeweller and bullion dealer, was arrested. In court, Palmer said he was unaware the gold was linked to the robbery and he was cleared of all charges.
One of the robbers, Brian Robinson, was caught after security guard insider Black, his brother-in-law, passed his name to investigating officers. He was arrested in December 1983.
Scotland Yard quickly discovered the family connection and Black confessed to aiding and abetting the raiders, providing them with a key to the main door, and giving them details of security measures.
Micky McAvoy had entrusted part of his share to associates Brian Perry and George Francis. Perry recruited Kenneth Noye, who was an expert in his field, to dispose of the gold. Noye melted down the bullion and recast it for sale, mixing in copper coins to disguise the source. However, the sudden movement of large amounts of money through a Bristol bank came to the notice of the Bank of England, which informed the police.
In 1986, Noye was found guilty of conspiracy to handle the Brink's-Mat gold, fined £500,000, plus £200,000 costs, and sentenced to 14 years in prison. He served seven years before being released in 1994. George Francis was later murdered and McAvoy was thought to be a suspect.
Attempts by 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. In January 1995, the High Court ordered McAvoy to make a payment of £27,488,299, making him responsible for the entire sum stolen. He was released from prison in 2000.
Much of the three tonnes of stolen gold has never been recovered and the other four robbers were never convicted. In 1996 about half of the gold, the portion which 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. According to the BBC, some have claimed that anyone wearing gold jewellery bought in the UK after 1983 is probably wearing Brink's-Mat.
On 21 December 1983, less than four weeks after the robbery, police in Austria arrested five men, four Italians and an Austrian, at a Vienna hotel. Police also recovered ten bullion bars bearing the refiner's mark and serial numbers of bars stolen in the Brink's-Mat robbery.
A person named Gordon Parry laundered large amounts of cash from the robbery after the disposal of the gold according to the Panama Papers, which show an offshore financial intermediary firm in Jersey named Centre Services requested Mossack Fonseca set up a Panamanian company 12 months after the Heathrow raid, on behalf of an unnamed client. Under Parry's direction millions of pounds were put through the resulting Feberion, and other front companies, via banks in Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Jersey and the Isle of Man. A man identified as depositing £500,000 in cash to the Hong Kong & Shanghai Bank is thought to have been notorious armed robber David Moore.
Two nominee directors from Sark were appointed to Feberion, and the company then issued two bearer shares. Parry used the offshore firms and recycled the funds, said to have amounted to £10.7 million, through transactions involving land in London Docklands, some buildings that used to form part of Cheltenham Ladies’ College, a farmhouse in Kent for McAvoy's girlfriend Kathleen Meacock and a £400,000 home for himself and his family, Crockham House, near Chartwell, Kent. The Metropolitan Police raided the offices of Centre Services late 1986 in cooperation with the Jersey authorities, seized papers and the two Feberion bearer shares.
In 1987, Jürgen Mossack, the law firm's principal, regained control of the company by dilution and Parry appointed a fresh set of Feberion directors, who were instructed to issue 98 new shares to Western Cross Inc, a front company controlled by Parry or his associates. In 1995, Brink's-Mat solicitors finally took control of Feberion and its assets. Crockham House was sold, and reacquired by Parry's wife, Irene Beaumont.
Collapse of Johnson Matthey Bankers Ltd
On 30 September 1984, less than a year after the Brink's-Mat robbery, the banking and gold-trading arm of Johnson Matthey (Johnson Matthey Bankers Ltd) collapsed and was taken over by the Bank of England to protect the integrity of the London gold markets. Losses amounted to over $US300 million. The bank had made very large loans to fraudsters and insolvent businesses over several years, and had serious and unexplained gaps in its records. The fraud squad was called in to investigate the bank and certain customers.
The so-called "Curse of Brink's-Mat" or "Curse of the Brink's-Mat millions" refers to the early deaths of many of those allegedly involved. These deaths were theorised by members of the London criminal underworld of being related to laundering of the gold.
- In 1990, the former treasurer of the Great Train Robbery, Charlie Wilson, had moved to Marbella, Spain, where he was suspected of being involved in drug smuggling. Engaged to launder some of the proceeds from the Brink's-Mat robbery, he lost the investors £3 million. On 23 April 1990 Wilson was shot dead.
- On 5 December 1998, Hatton Garden jeweller; Solly Nahome was shot dead outside his home. Solly Nahome was a "financer" and associate of the Adams family, who were also suspected of being involved in the laundering of the Brinks-Mat gold. Prior to his murder, Nahome's associate and jeweller Gilbert Wynter had disappeared from the home that he shared with his girlfriend on 9 March 1998. It was theorised that Nahome and Wynter were murdered as a result of the disappearance of £800,000 from a cannabis deal while it was suspected that a rival gang murdered Nahome and Wynter to cause disruption.
- In mid-2001, Brian Perry was shot dead.
- On 14 May 2003, George Francis was shot dead by John O'Flynn outside Francis' courier business in Bermondsey. George Francis was a former associate of the Krays who was believed to be involved in the laundering of the gold, Francis had previously survived an attempt on his life when he was shot in the shoulder near a pub that he ran in Essex in May 1985 after allegedly failed to pay £100,000 to have a jury acquit Lennie "Teddy Bear" Watkins who was on trial for the murder of Peter Bennett; a customs investigator who was shot by Watkins in a struggle.
- On 24 June 2015, John "Goldfinger" Palmer was shot dead.
In popular culture
- In 1992, a made-for-television film called Fool's Gold based on the robbery was released with McAvoy portrayed by Sean Bean.
- On 4 November 2003, Channel 4 broadcast a documentary on the events of the raid.
- In 2010, another documentary was broadcast on the Crime Network.
- On 4 February 2017 Channel 5 aired a new documentary updating events, including the death of John Palmer. In the new documentary first-hand accounts from the security guards were given who were on shift the morning of the robbery as well as officers on the case.
- On 1 April 2017 BBC Radio 4 aired a drama, The Hatton Garden Heist, which included the events of the Brink's-Mat robbery.
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