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Moment that mattered: The Hatton Garden Six are sentenced

The tunnel leading into the vault at the Hatton Garden safe deposit in London

The tunnel leading into the vault at the Hatton Garden safe deposit in London. Photo: Metropolitan Police via Getty Images

This article was published in Delayed Gratification in March 2016

The atmosphere in court at the sentencing was almost light-hearted – there was a lot of cheering and laughing. I think the defendants were relieved that the sentence wasn’t more severe. The public were puzzled as to how they ended up only getting six or seven years when they stole so much, but the key thing is that it was a burglary, not a robbery. People often don’t know the distinction. A robbery involves violence or the threat of violence – a burglary doesn’t. They’d done nine months already, so they could be out in a couple of years with good behaviour.

When the news first broke [that thieves had tunnelled into vaults in London’s jewellery quarter and stolen safety deposit boxes containing items worth tens of millions of pounds in total over Easter weekend in 2015] people presumed it was the work of a highly organised Eastern European gang. Then the police announced the advanced ages of those they’d arrested, and I said to myself ‘I bet I know them’. And I did. It was like an old school A-team – Brian Reader, Terry Perkins, Danny Jones, Carl Wood, Kenny Collins and William Lincoln.

Brian Reader was the first name to come up. I’d met him a number of times back in the seventies and eighties, and interviewed his wife Lynne, who’s now dead. I had always liked him. There are some people that you meet in that walk of life who you don’t like, but Brian always seemed to have a bit of a hinterland. He liked sailing and skiing. His wife was very smart, she was a writing instructor. He wasn’t your standard guy.

Did they not know that if you use a bus pass to get to the crime scene it registers where you are?”

I think the motive was probably different for all the thieves, but for Brian I think the death of his wife had an effect. He also had cancer, and was having financial problems – maybe it was a bit of a Breaking Bad thing: ‘I’ve got cancer, I need money, Lynne’s gone: why not?’ He was insistent that there should be no weapons. And there was the promise of this being a big one, although the gang may not have known quite how big it was going to be.

The gang were described by police as “analogue criminals in a digital age”, but they left no fingerprints or DNA. They were professional from that point of view. But did they not know as they drove their identifiable white car that CCTV is absolutely everywhere? Did they not know that if you use a bus pass to get to the crime scene it registers where you are? Did they not know that phone records tell the police where we are and who we’re in touch with? And did they not know that if they research ‘great drills’ and ‘forensics for dummies’ online, they leave traces behind?

A planned theft on this scale is far rarer than it used to be. One of the main reasons is the change in security: CCTV, traceable money and a more honest police force. I had a meal the other day with an old bank robber in his late seventies, just out of prison, and he was saying that in the 1970s you’d hear that there was money coming into this post office or that bank, and when you arrived there would be another gang of robbers there already. Then afterwards when the police came to your place having reckoned it was probably you, they left with £2,000 in their pockets and that was the end of it.

That wouldn’t happen any more. It’s more difficult to get hold of cash. It’s simpler to trace people’s movements, and if you want to make money there are easier ways of doing it – cyber crime, and things like that. I’ve noticed there’s quite a lot of people on motorbikes with masks going into jewellery shops and grabbing stuff nowadays. The 1920s-style smash and grab, there’s a bit of that, but big project crimes such as Hatton Gardon are rare, and that’s why there was so much interest in this robbery that had been planned for a year or two.

It was similar in many ways to the 1963 Great Train Robbery in terms of the amount taken and the characters involved. I remember Bruce Reynolds, who was the person who organised the train robbery. He said that when they were arrested [former Scotland Yard detective] Nipper Read said ‘You’d probably have done it even if you had known you were going to get caught.’ It was such a spectacular theft and I think Hatton Gardon was similarly attractive.

There are films in the works, and Michael Caine has said he’d happily play one of the gang. Of course, there are articles saying it’s ridiculous that these people are treated as ‘diamond geezers’, that they’re nothing but common thieves with violent backgrounds. Yes, they are criminals, but I think because of the current mood – post-Panama Papers – the feeling is that there’s a class of people in Britain who rip off enormous sums of money and who award themselves ridiculous bonuses for doing nothing more spectacular than the job they already receive a large salary for. They’re the people who drove the banks into the dust in 2008. None of them really answered for it. They weren’t criminals, but they were seen as legal criminals, if you like. They were greedy and thoughtless, and left a lot of victims behind. I think the view of morality has changed to a great extent because of that. There is a feeling that we live in a country where you grab as much as you can, whether you’re a landlord or a city banker or an East End gangster.

After the sentencing, one of the investigating detectives said, ‘Remember, there are victims. A lot of people have lost their life savings. It’s not a harmless caper.’ But there’s a feeling of ‘who hides their money in a vault?’ and there is less sympathy than there would be for somebody whose house is burgled.

This case marked the end of an era. These were old-school guys carrying out an old-school crime and getting caught quite quickly because they made new-school mistakes. They will be treated as heroes in prison. They will be well looked after. All the young prisoners will be waiting on them.

I think the people who misbehaved at the back of the class are always more interesting to most people than the prefect and I think that is true in later life too. We lead very restricted lives, and there’s sometimes a sneaking admiration for people who break the rules.

We hope you enjoyed this sample feature from issue #22 of Delayed Gratification

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