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

A police officer outside the Hatton Garden Safe Deposit company in  London, England, on Tuesday after a burglary at the premises over the Easter weekend. Photograph: Andy Rain/EPA

A police officer outside the Hatton Garden Safe Deposit company in London, England, on Tuesday after a burglary at the premises over the Easter weekend. Photograph: Andy Rain/EPA

 

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 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.”

Flying Squad

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”.

‘Extremely shocked’

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.”

Crossrail works

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.

Press Association