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Monday, 18 February, 2002, 18:03 GMT
Great heists of our time
Last week, thieves stole 4.6m cash from Heathrow
The attempted theft of 200m of diamonds from the Millennium Dome would have been just one of a long line of daring robberies.

BBC News Online looks through the heist hall of shame.

Heathrow millions

Robbers get away with more than $6m in cash after a raid on a British Airways security vehicle at Heathrow Airport.

The theft of $6.5m (4.57m) happened in a secure area, beyond customs, and it is possible the robbers had legitimate security passes.

The thieves escaped in another vehicle which bore the livery of British Airways - and which was later found abandoned and burnt out.

It is understood the money was flown into Heathrow on a jet from Bahrain and bound for New York's JFK Airport.

Great Train Robbery

Perhaps one of Britain's most notorious heists took place on a railway line in sleepy Buckinghamshire.

The Great Train Robbery
The "Great Train Robbers" made off with 2.6m
On August 8 1963, 15 masked men brought the Glasgow to London mail train to a halt by tampering with the signals.

The robbers swarmed onto the train, badly injuring the driver, and grabbed 120 mail bags containing 2.6m in used bank notes.

Police hunting the "Great Train Robbers" later stumbled on the gang's farmhouse hideout. The thieves had failed to torch the house - or the fingerprints they had left there.

Members of the gang were tried and handed sentences totalling 300 years. Ronnie Biggs, who escaped prison in 1965, returned to the UK from exile in Brazil last year to serve the remainder of his 30-year sentence.


In January 1950, America was rocked when robbers successfully raided the supposedly "burglar-proof" Boston headquarters of Brinks Inc.

Dollar bills
Nice, but it won't cut your lawn
FBI boss J Edgar Hoover was enraged, calling the heist the work of "the Communist Party and organised crime".

However, the nine men who walked out of the Brinks office with $2.7m in cash and securities were anything but organised.

While waiting to share out the money, two of the gang couldn't resist stealing a lawnmower. Police hunting for the lost mower found it - in the same car boot where the gang's guns were hidden.

Brinks Mat

The unrelated Brinks Mat robbery, which took place at a warehouse near Heathrow Airport in 1983, saw the theft of 6,800 bars of gold, packed into 76 cardboard boxes. Two boxes of diamonds were also stolen.

Years later the vast bulk of the bullion remains unrecovered. Some of it, however, ended up in the hands of Kenneth Noye, who was jailed for 14 years.

Boston art theft

PM Tony Blair visits an art gallery
"Quick, while no one's looking!"
In March 1990, two men wearing fake moustaches and police uniforms bluffed their way into the city's Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.

They left with a dozen paintings - including canvases by Rembrandt, Manet, Degas and Vermeer - worth a staggering $300m.

It has been suggested that IRA terrorists were behind the raid, hoping to negotiate a ransom for the paintings. The works have not been seen since, and the museum has offered a $5m reward for information leading to their return.

The four Norwegians who stole Edvard Munch's painting The Scream from the Oslo National Museum in 1994 had no intention of returning it to its rightful owner.

The 40m picture was swiped in less than one minute, when two of the gang scaled a ladder and slid through a gallery window.

Scotland Yard detectives posing as foreign buyers eventually winkled out the gang - offering 325,000 for the stolen work - allowing the Norwegian police to swoop.


The 1983 theft of Shergar, one of the finest horses ever to have raced, captured the public imagination for years.

But like many other high-profile thefts, it was not one carried out with military precision.

Shergar being ridden by Walter Swinburn
Sean O'Callaghan, a convicted murderer who turned into a supergrass against the IRA, claims that the horse died because its IRA captors could not handle it.

In his book, The Informer, O'Callaghan says things started to go wrong as soon as the horse was lifted from the Aga Khan's stud farm in Ballymany, County Kildare.

"To handle Shergar, the IRA recruited a man who had once 'worked with horses'. But working with horses is one thing: dealing with a thoroughbred stallion, which can be a difficult, highly-strung creature at the best of times, is another story altogether."

The horse got out of control in its horsebox, and injured itself. The gang was unable to handle him, and he was killed within days, O'Callaghan wrote. Demands for a 5m ransom from the Aga Khan were never met.

Scientists recently discounted claims that Shergar's skull had been found.

Biggest successful jewellery robbery

The Guinness Book of Records says the world's biggest jewellery robbery took place in August 1994, when three thieves burst into the most famous Carlton Hotel in Cannes.

Firing machine guns, they robbed the Carlton's jewellery store just as it was being closed. They made off with 30m in jewels. It was later discovered that the rounds they had been firing were in fact blanks.

If the Millennium Dome diamond robbery of November 2000 had been a success and the Millennium Star taken, it would have dwarfed this theft by more than ten times.

Crown jewels?

Yeomen warders at the Tower
"Well he was dressed like a priest, sir."
Although priceless, the crown jewels at the Tower of London have only once attracted the attention of thieves.

In 1671, one Colonel Blood gained entry to the Tower, dressed in the robes of a priest. Along with two accomplices, he overpowered the guards and exited with the crown, orb and sceptre.

The plan fell apart with the getaway. The Colonel only made it to the East Gate of the Tower. Fortunately for him, in days not renowned for the lenient treatment of criminals, Blood was pardoned by Charles II.

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