Two cage fighters masterminded Britain's biggest ever cash robbery, stealing £53m before fleeing to Morocco, a court heard yesterday.
Lee Murray, 29, and Paul Allen, 30, allegedly planned and pulled off the armed heist which took place at the Securitas cash depot in Tonbridge, Kent, in February 2006.
After the robbery, the pair then fled, via Amsterdam, to a hideout in Morocco where they planned to begin a new life, the Old Bailey heard.
But, after being arrested in Africa, Mr Allen was extradited back to the UK to face trial. Yesterday, he appeared in the dock alongside another alleged defendant, Michael Demetris, 32, a hairdresser. Mr Murray, of Sidcup, Kent, is yet to face trial in the UK and remains in a Moroccan jail. Five men have already been convicted for their role in the robbery. Another suspect, Keyinde Patterson, is still at large.
Opening the case for the prosecution yesterday, Sir John Nutting QC said Mr Allen was "at the heart" of the robbery. He said: "He played an important part throughout and assisted Lee Murray, who was arguably the leading light."
He said the pair were "friends of longstanding" and revealed that, in the weeks leading up to the robbery, they spoke regularly on the phone "almost invariably last thing at night".
Sir John explained to the jury the details of the robbery, which took place on 21 and 22 February 2006.
He told them how, driving home from work, the Securitas depot manager Colin Dixon, 52, was stopped by two men that were claiming to be police officers. After pulling over, he was taken to an isolated farm where he was forced to reveal details of Securitas' security measures at gunpoint.
At the same time, his wife and nine-year-old son were duped into believing Mr Dixon had been involved in a car accident, again by some men posing as police officers.
Sir John explained: "She realised how wickedly she had been deceived, when, with her child in the car, the "policeman" passenger produced a gun once they were on the move."
Mrs Dixon and her son were taken to the same farm that Mr Dixon was being held and kept prisoner by the gang for several hours.
In the early hours of the morning, the masked gunmen burst into the Tonbridge depot, where 14 members of Securitas staff were tied up and threatened. After an hour, they drove off with £53m in cash in a seven-tonne Renault van. The jury was told that £20m of that money was recovered within a month.
Stuart Royle, 49, of Maidstone, Kent, Jetmir Bucpapa, 26, of Tonbridge, Kent, Lea Rusha, 35, of Southborough, Kent, Roger Coutts, 30, of Welling, south-east London, and inside man Emir Hysenaj, 28, of Crowborough, East Sussex, were all convicted at trial in January this year.
The jury was told that Mr Allen, of Chatham, Kent, was not a defendant at that trial because he was still in Morocco. Michael Demetris, of Bromley, Kent, also wasn't tried. He was charged after evidence given by Michelle Hogg, the make-up artist who admitted making the robbers' disguise, at the first trial.
Of Mr Demetris, a "longstanding friend" of Mr Murray, Sir John told the jury that there was no suggestion that he had been one of the kidnappers or robbers. He ran a hair salon and employed Miss Hogg, introducing her to the conspirators and encouraging and helping her to produce their disguises.
"He played a significant part in organising the work... and undertook most of the tasks relating to changes of hairstyle for the disguises," Sir John said. "After the robbery, he instructed Michelle Hogg what to say to police if she was interviewed."
The jury was also told that, between the summer of 2005 and February 2006, Mr Murray had made enquires at specialist shops selling equipment useful for carrying out the crime.
He bought miniature cameras, used for reconnaissance, police clothing, and paintball masks. Mr Allen and Mr Demetris both deny conspiracy to rob, kidnap and possessing a firearm.
The trial continues.