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Hatton Garden jewel heist 'master', 76, quit raid after early difficulties

Published 24/11/2015

The "master" of the Hatton Garden heist pulled out of the raid after early difficulties getting into the vault, jurors heard

A thief who helped mastermind the Hatton Garden raid pulled out of the "largest burglary in English history" after failing to complete it in one night, a court heard.

Experienced criminal Brian Reader, 76, withdrew from the conspiracy when the gang ran into difficulties trying to get into the vault on the night of April 2.

Dubbed the "Master" by his co-conspirators, the pensioner had been instrumental in planning the burglary which saw valuables worth up to £14 million, including precious stones and bullion, looted from safety deposit boxes in London's jewellery quarter.

Reader, along with three other "ringleaders" - John "Kenny" Collins, 75, Daniel Jones, 58, and Terry Perkins, 67 - has pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit burglary at Hatton Garden Safe Deposit.

Carl Wood, 58, of Elderbeck Close, Cheshunt, Hertfordshire; William Lincoln, 60, of Winkley Street, Bethnal Green, east London; and Jon Harbinson, 42, of Beresford Gardens, Benfleet, Essex deny the offence.

A fourth man, Hugh Doyle, 48, of Riverside Gardens, Enfield, north London, is jointly charged with them on one count of conspiracy to conceal, convert or transfer criminal property between January 1 and May 19, this year.

He also faces an alternative charge of concealing, converting or transferring criminal property between April 1 and May 19, this year.

One of the alleged thieves, a red-haired man known only as Basil, remains at large.

Jurors at Woolwich Crown Court in south east London have heard how the gang initially broke into the vault on April 2, but needed to return with different equipment on April 4.

While they managed to drill through the wall, the thieves were stopped in their tracks by the metal cabinet on the other side that was bolted to the floor.

Although with the group on the first night, Reader did not return on the second.

After the first night of the burglary, Reader was allegedly driven from Collins's home to London Bridge station by Lincoln.

Prosecutor Philip Evans said: "This series of acts by Lincoln is, says the Crown, very significant.

"The Crown says the timing of these visits generated as they are by short calls which were simply not long enough for Collins to have explained the plan, demonstrate that Lincoln was 'in the know' before the burglary took place, and he had therefore entered the agreement before 7.30am on the 5th April.

"Having agreed to be a party to the conspiracy he agreed that his role would be as a get away driver for the stolen property."

He continued: "No doubt, says the Crown, had the burglary been successful on the first night, Mr Lincoln would have collected the goods, as he clearly anticipated he was going to, and he would then have called up Jon Harbinson, in the way he subsequently did on April 5/6, who would have taken them further way under the disguise of his taxi.

"Jon Harbinson, says the Crown, was at this time also in the know and was waiting for a call which, at that stage, didn't come because the burglars had not managed the get jewellery and had no need at that stage for Jon Harbinson.

"Instead of taking the stolen goods away, Mr Lincoln provided a lift to Brian Reader."

On April 3, Jones and Collins made a trip to Twickenham in south west London, in order to buy what they needed to complete the burglary.

They went to two shops - Machine Mart and D&M Tools - and Machine Mart had records of selling a "Clarke" pump and hose to "V Jones", who gave his own address.

Jurors heard the parts of the pump were similar to those of another that was found - and possibly damaged on the first night - at the scene after the burglary.

After a series of phonecalls were exchanged between the men, Collins drove Jones, and allegedly Wood, to Hatton Garden at around 9.20pm.

Mr Evans said: "Brian Reader, on this occasion was nowhere to be seen and it appears that he had decided he no longer wanted any part in the activities at Hatton Garden."

The men checked out the area before leaving in the Mercedes and returning in the white van about 40 minutes later.

Jurors were told the man identified only as Basil appeared and let the men into the building, after Lionel Wiffen, another jeweller whose office was at the premises, left.

Mr Evans explained: "Importantly, whilst Basil was inside Hatton Garden, Mr Wood appears to go to the fire escape door - which Mr Wiffen had locked - and try it on a couple of occasions.

"There then followed what appears to be a discussion in the street between the three men, Mr Wood, Mr Jones and Mr Collins.

"It appears from the CCTV as if Mr Wood then exits the area to the left of Leather Lane. The man the C rown says is Mr Wood is not seen again on the CCTV and it appears for whatever reason he decided at this point that he wanted out and he left the scene."

The prosecution say Wood's withdrawal from the conspiracy was confirmed by subsequent recordings of conversations that took place in Collins's white Mercedes and Perkins's Citroen Saxo.

Before reading from the transcripts, Mr Evans apologised to the jury, saying: "You will forgive me if I don't get the intonation quite right."

He further warned jurors that Perkins was quite graphic in his speech and did not "mince his words".

On May 15, in Collins's Mercedes, he, Perkins and Jones discussed how Wood had lost his nerve, the court was told.

Referring to Wood, Perkins said: "He thought we would never get in, cause even the c***, I said 'give it another half hour f*** we've done everything we can do, if we can't get in, we won't be able to get in will we?'"

After Wood left the vault Basil appeared again and unlocked the fire escape door. The others made their way into the building, while Collins resumed his role as lookout, jurors heard.

CCTV footage shows Jones carrying a black holdall and a red box which is believed to have contained the pump and hose bought in Twickenham.

Mr Evans said: "Where the last attempt had been unsuccessful, the inference is that this time, with the second pump and hose, they accessed the vault by pushing over the cabinet.

"In order to do that, they used the metal joists which they had taken in on the first night to anchor the pump and hose on the wall opposite the vault."

Collins of Bletsoe Walk, Islington; Jones of Park Avenue, Enfield; Perkins of Heene Road, Enfield and Reader of Dartford Road, Dartford, are due to be sentenced at a later date.

In the covertly recorded conversations Jones and Perkins were heard describing what happened as the group tried to breach the vault.

In one recording taken on May 18, Perkins said: "I mean they have got to be two feet thick ain't they."

Saying it was more than that, Jones replied: "So they put the work down to me and you, they was sitting, going 'put a bit here, try a bit there'."

Perkins continued that Jones had said "smash that up", adding: "Smash that up now, put that down, its f****** working cos you're egging one another on going 'it's working, it's working, you got to take it off, it ain't ping back'.

"Remember me saying that 'it ain't f****** come back, we're in, we're in', and then you started pumping again, 'get some more, get some more'. Ain't it?"

Once inside the vault, the thieves ransacked 73 of the 999 safe deposit boxes within it, with Jones emerging from the building around 5.45am on April 5.

Mr Evans said: "Perkins soon joined him and together they brought the two wheelie bins and several bags, all full of jewels and other valuable items, up the stairs to the fire escape.

"This no doubt due to the weight of the bins did not prove to be an all together straightforward task."

Again, Collins returned to the white van and drove it around to the fire escape where Perkins and Jones loaded the "obviously very heavy wheelie bins" and other items on to it.

The next issue the burglars had to contend with was what to do with the stolen goods, jurors heard.

The court was told the men decided to wait until publicity subsided to launder the goods. They originally split up proceeds and went their separate ways.

Mr Evans said: "When they were confident that had happened they could split it up, melt it down, sell it or hide for a rainy day. Ultimately, however, their plan was to convert their criminal property into money."

Following the raid, the men continued to meet, using The Castle pub in Islington as one of their preferred venues, the jury was told.

But unbeknownst to them, after detectives became suspicious about their involvement in the raid, expert lip readers were also deployed to the pub.

The court was shown surveillance pictures of the men sitting outside Scotti's cafe, also in Islington.

Jurors heard that rather than planning, the subject of their conversation was now the division of their spoils, "as well as celebrating what at that stage was their success at completing the largest undetected burglary in English history".

After a series of other phone calls the gang allegedly decided all the goods should be amassed in one place, and decided on an address linked to Perkins - Sterling Road in Enfield.

On May 19, Harbinson allegedly took the goods in his taxi to the car park next to The Old Wheatsheaf pub in Enfield - next to Doyle's workshop, jurors heard.

Collins and Jones drove to the workshop to collect the goods, and once the bags in question had been moved into Collins's boot, they drove to Sterling Road and met Perkins there. Soon after their arrival, the police arrived.

Jurors heard that in the days before the police arrived, the ringleaders were being watched by detectives.

On May 15, the recording device placed in Perkins's car, recorded Jones boasting about the raid.

He told Perkins: "The biggest cash robbery in history at the time and now the biggest tom history in the f****** world, that's what they are saying ... And what a book you could write, f****** hell'."

Other surveillance included photos of Collins, Jones and Perkins meeting up at various times at The Castle pub or Scotti's cafe, both in Islington.

Lip readers were also employed to decipher what the men were speaking about.

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