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Thursday, 8 November, 2001, 23:51 GMT
Police 'foiled 200m diamonds heist'
JCB digger
The court was told that the robbers were well prepared
Police caught raiders red-handed when they foiled a massive diamond robbery at the Millennium Dome, a court has heard.

Their actions stopped the robbers getting away with 200m worth of "perhaps the rarest and finest" diamonds in the world, the Old Bailey was told.

Martin Heslop QC prosecuting, spoke at the start of the trial of six men accused of plotting to rob the De Beers Millennium Diamond Exhibition.

Millennium Star diamond
The men are accused of trying to steal diamonds worth 200m
They are accused of planning the robbery, with others unknown between 7 July and 8 November 2000.

Kevin Meredith, 34, from Brighton, East Sussex; Wayne Taylor, 35, from Tonbridge, Kent; Aldo Ciarrocchi, 31, from Bermondsey, and William Cockran, 48, of Catford, both south-east London; Robert Adams, 57 and Raymond Betson, 39, both of no fixed address, all deny conspiracy to rob.

Mr Heslop said the robbers were caught as they smashed their way into the Dome with a JCB digger, equipped with a giant mechanised shovel.

Biggest robbery

He said: "It was a remarkable police operation. But for their intervention they would have got away with 200m worth of diamonds.

"Had they succeeded, it would have ranked as the biggest robbery in the world in terms of value. It could properly be described as the robbery of the millennium."

The robbers had caused terror as they sped towards the vault and smashed into the Dome, Mr Heslop said.


Had they succeeded, it would have ranked as the biggest robbery in the world in terms of value

Martin Heslop QC
Prosecuting
The digger had been modified to carry four people inside.

"Because of the very nature of the vehicle, it was less likely that anyone would have any chance of stopping it as they made their getaway," said Mr Heslop.

Those inside came equipped with gas masks, smoke grenades and bottles of ammonia to discharge, he told the jury.

They also held a sledgehammer, wire cutters, a sophisticated nail gun and body armour.

'Professionally planned'

A boat was waiting to take them across the Thames to a getaway van, parked by a creek on the other side, he said.

The robbery was planned professionally and carefully down to the last detail and almost succeeded.

But senior police officers, suspicious of a plan to obtain the diamonds, mounted a sophisticated operation to thwart it.


The Star was in an armour-plated cabinet costing 50,000 to construct

Mr Heslop
On the night before the raid they removed the DeBeers diamonds and replaced them with worthless fakes, just in case the robbers succeeded.

Undercover police officers and sophisticated CCTV were ready in wait for the robbers, the court heard.

The police operation protected the famous Millennium Star, mined in 1992 and described as "a perfect diamond with absolutely no flaws". It weighed 777 carats.

Sophisticated alarms

The other diamonds had been owned by De Beers since 1890 and are unique, said Mr Heslop.

It is believed their shape and colour are such that nothing like them exists anywhere else in the world.

Mr Heslop said: "They were protected by very sophisticated alarms. The Star was in an armour-plated cabinet costing 50,000 to construct. The other 11 were in a similar cabinet."

The robbery was planned to the last detail, from a hideout in southern England, he said.

Speedboat driver

Mr Heslop said: "Each one of these defendants and others not here were knowingly involved in one way or other in the planning and preparation and/or execution.

"Cockran, Betson, Ciarrocchi and Adams were all caught red handed at the scene with the JCB in the Dome having launched their attack and smashed their way in.

"Meredith was the speedboat driver caught on the boat waiting.

"Taylor played his part in planning what was going to happen."

The trial was adjourned until Friday.

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The BBC's Stephen Cape
"The robbery may have succeeded if it was not for remarkable detective work"
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