The Brink's-Mat robbery at the Heathrow International Trading Estate on 26 November 1983 saw a record £26 million (today approximately £81 million) worth of gold bullion, diamonds and cash stolen from a warehouse. The bullion was the property of Johnson Matthey Bankers Ltd, which collapsed the following year after making large loans to fraudsters and insolvent firms. Two men were convicted, and the majority of the gold has never been recovered.
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 the west of Greater London. At the time, 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 they were going to steal £3.2 million in cash, but they found three tonnes of gold bullion and stole £26 million (approximately £83.39 million in 2018 pounds) 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 may 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 failure to follow up immediately on the tip-off. Only 14 months later were the premises raided, the smelter found, and occupier John Palmer, a local jeweller and bullion dealer, arrested. In court, Palmer said he was unaware the gold was linked to the robbery and he was cleared of all charges. For this incident, Palmer acquired the soubriquet of "Goldfinger".
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.
Noye was placed under police surveillance. In January 1985 he killed a police officer, DC John Fordham, whom he had discovered in his garden. At the resulting trial the following December, the jury found him not guilty on the grounds of self-defence.
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 smelted, 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.
According to the police spokesman, the bars were gold-coated tungsten counterfeits, and therefore could not be Johnson Matthey's stolen gold bars. He said that the arrested men planned to fraudulently claim they were from the Heathrow robbery. No explanation was given as to how the counterfeiters obtained the unpublished bar serial numbers, nor the likely benefit of counterfeiting stolen property in this way.
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.
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.
- 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, a young British man knocked on the front door of his hacienda north of Marbella, and shot dead Wilson and his pet Husky dog, before riding off down the hill on a yellow bicycle. Over the next three years, four more shootings were connected to the Brink's-Mat raid.[unreliable source?] In 2007, supergrass Michael Michael claimed to know who the killer of Wilson was, but police made no arrest.
- In December 1998, Hatton Garden jeweller Solly Nahome, who had helped melt down hundreds of gold bars on behalf of the notorious Adams family, was shot dead outside his home.
- In mid-2001, Brian Perry was shot dead.
- On 14 May 2003, George Francis was shot dead by John O'Flynn.
- 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.
- Michael de Larrabeiti wrote a book about police corruption called The Bunce} in which a robbery based on the Brink's-Mat Robbery forms the initial chapter.
- Pavement's song "Brinx Job", featured on their 1995 LP Wowee Zowee, takes inspiration from the heist.
- 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.
- "Brinks Mat gold: The unsolved mystery". BBC News. 15 April 2000. Retrieved 12 November 2015.
- Connett, David (18 August 1992). "Police traced laundered money around the world". London: The Independent. Retrieved 22 September 2009.
- "Gold Clue To Brink's-Mat Robbery". Police Oracle. 9 June 2008. Retrieved 22 September 2009.
- Thompson, Tony (18 May 2003). "Curse of the Brink's-Mat millions". The Observer. Retrieved 12 November 2015.
- Summers, Chris (26 January 2004). "In search of thieves' gold". BBC News. Retrieved 22 September 2009.
- UK CPI inflation.
- Brown, David (4 August 2007). "Brink's-Mat curse strikes again". The Times. Retrieved 22 September 2009.(subscription required)
- Kelsey, Tim (2 April 1995). "Police 'ignored Brink's-Mat tip' two days after raid". The Independent. London.
- Sam Coates (23 November 1996). "Whatever happened to Brinks-Mat?". The Independent. London. Retrieved 22 September 2009.
- ""I killed policeman in self-defence," Noye tells jury". the Guardian. 7 April 2000. Retrieved 26 November 2016.
- Summers, Chris (28 January 2008). "The role of the 'inside man'". BBC News. Retrieved 12 November 2015.
- Noye: From street vendor to Mr Big. BBC News, 14 April 2000
- Luckett, Tim (30 July 2000). "pounds 27m MAN FREED; Life's good again for Brink's Mat mastermind". Sunday Mirror. Retrieved 22 September 2009 – via thefreelibrary.com.
- "M25 murderer jailed". BBC News. 14 April 2000. Retrieved 12 November 2015.
- Coates, Sam (23 November 1996). "Whatever happened to Brinks-Mat?". The Independent. Retrieved 12 November 2015.
- "Austrians Seize False Gold Tied to London Bullion Theft". The New York Times. 22 December 1983.
- Simon Bowers. "How Mossack Fonseca helped hide millions from Britain's biggest gold bullion robbery". the Guardian.
- "Announce New Banking Controls after Johnson Matthey Collapse". apnewsarchive.com.
- "Johnson Matthey Bankers". Parliamentary Debates (Hansard). 83. House of Commons. 17 July 1985. col. 320–325. Retrieved 12 November 2015.
- Clarkson, Wensley (2 February 2006). Killing Charlie: The Bloody, Bullet-Riddled Hunt for the Most Powerful Great Train Robber of All. Mainstream Publishing. ISBN 1845960351.
- Jack Harvey. "The Great Train Robbery Part II – Did it end like a Children's Tea Party?". algarvedailynews.com. Archived from the original on 30 January 2013. Retrieved 28 February 2013.
- "Great train robber escapes from Prison". History Channel. 12 August 1964. Retrieved 28 February 2013.
- Wensley Clarkson (5 May 2012). "The curse of Brink's Mat: An ex-cop with an axe in his head – and a Great Train Robber shot dead in Marbella". London: Daily Mail. Retrieved 12 November 2015.
- "Rat shopped wife, mother, brother and lover". The Sun. London. 3 August 2007. Retrieved 28 February 2013.
- Alford, Simon. "John O'Flynn, Terry Conaghan and Harry Richardson: The Curse of Brinks Mat". Court News. Archived from the original on 8 December 2015. Retrieved 12 November 2015.
- Connett, David (4 July 2015). "Curse of Brink's Mat: Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist". The Independent. Retrieved 12 November 2015.
- "Fool's Gold: The Story of the Brink's-Mat Robbery". IMDb. Retrieved 12 November 2015.
- "Article". Retrieved 22 September 2009.[dead link]
- "About – Britain's Biggest Heists on Crime and Investigation Network". Crimeandinvestigation.co.uk. Retrieved 14 June 2011.
- "The Hatton Garden Heist, Drama - BBC Radio 4". BBC. Retrieved 2017-04-28.