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The BBC's Stephen Cape
"The real diamonds will be back in the dome soon"
 real 56k

The BBC's Tom Hagler
"The Dome had been put on alert at least 24 times in recent weeks in expectation of the raid."
 real 28k

Dome Chief Executive, Pierre Yves Gerbeau
"I did not have a good night."
 real 28k

Tuesday, 7 November, 2000, 15:56 GMT
Great Dome robbery foiled
The gang used a JCB digger to break into the Dome
Police have foiled a diamond heist at the Millennium Dome which detectives say would have been the world's biggest robbery.

The Metropolitan Police flying squad sealed off the south east London attraction as an armed gang attempted to steal 12 diamonds on display there - including the priceless Millennium Star.

Click here to see map

Unknown to the gang the real jewels were replaced on Monday with replicas.

The JCB digger used to smash into the Dome
The JCB digger used to smash into the Dome
The raiders used a JCB digger to smash through the perimeter fence and the gates of the Dome to reach the Money Zone, where the De Beers diamonds, worth an estimated 350m, are usually housed in a secure vault.

Detective Superintendent John Shatford, of the Metropolitan Police flying squad, said officers - many of whom were disguised as cleaners with their guns concealed in binbags - were lying in wait for the gang.

They pounced as four robbers attempted to smash their way into the display case using sledgehammers and a nail gun, at around 0930 GMT on Tuesday.

Gang members set off smoke bombs and ammonia gas in the vault. They had gas masks and are believed to have been dressed in protective clothing.

This would have been the largest robbery in the world

John Shatford
Metropolitan Police
But the men were overpowered by armed police and arrested in an operation codenamed "Magician".

"There was an overwhelming number of officers there to ensure this raid was unsuccessful," Det Supt Shatford said.

"If this had been carried out in accordance with their wishes, this would have been the largest robbery in the world."

As the police struck fellow officers stationed around the Dome arrested another man in a high-powered boat on the Thames.

Another man, thought to be a member of the gang monitoring police radio frequencies, was arrested on the north shore of the Thames opposite the Dome.

'Major coup'

Former flying squad member John O'Connell told the BBC the robbers were "new kids on the block".

"They are not your run-of-the mill south London robbers," he said.

"It's a major coup for the Flying Squad."

Millennium star
The real Millennium Star: 'One of the finest diamonds ever discovered'

The gang members, from London and Kent, were armed with tools and automatic guns.

Mr Shatford said they had drawn up an "audacious plan" to steal some of the world's most valuable jewels.

Among the jewels in the exhibition is the 203-carat De Beers Millennium Star, along with 11 other valuable diamonds.

The Millennium Star is described as "a diamond of unrivalled purity" and "one of the finest diamonds ever discovered."

These jewels are the equivalent of a Van Gogh or the Mona Lisa

Liz Lynch, De Beers
Liz Lynch, of De Beers, said the company liaised with the police to protect the jewels.

"They were replaced with crystal replicas on Monday. They will be put back on display once we have been given security clearance."

She said the collection was priceless and any effort to sell them would probably have failed because they were so well known.

"The international diamond market is a small community. These jewels are the equivalent of a Van Gogh or the Mona Lisa," said Ms Lynch.

Mr Shatford said officers from Kent Constabulary and the Met had spent months planning the operation to foil the raid.

He said more than 100 officers had been involved in the operation, which began after a tip off was received.

In a joint operation Kent police's serious crime unit arrested six more people in connection with the raid on the Dome on Tuesday morning.

Cordoned off

The arrests were made in the village of Collier Street and Horsmonden. Police said the men were aged 38, 58, 32, 34 and 62 respectively.

Several officers are still at the scene but no one was hurt during the operation.

All those arrested have been taken to police stations in South London.

By 1200 GMT some areas of the Dome had re-opened, but other areas, including the Money Zone, remained cordoned off.

I heard what sounded like automatic gunfire

Andy Worth

Andy Worth, who was in the Dome with a party of schoolchildren from Dorset said he was alerted by loud crashing noises.

"All the kids were having a meal in Macdonald's when there was a loud bang. I heard what sounded like automatic gunfire.

"When we were allowed back out there was a JCB digger parked by the Money Zone," he said.

Mr Shatford defended the decision to wait until the gang had reached the diamonds before arresting them.

"Our chief concern throughout was public safety. We decided it was better to let the robbers get to the vault where they were effectively imprisoned.

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13 Sep 00 | UK
Dome could be knocked down
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