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Last Updated: Monday, 26 January, 2004, 17:22 GMT
In search of thieves' gold
Chris Summers
BBC News Online

More than 20 years after 26m worth of gold bullion was stolen in the Brinks Mat robbery one man is still searching for the money.

Brinks were insured by a syndicate of underwriters at Lloyd's of London, and it was they who paid out in the aftermath of the robbery in 1983.

In 1986 the syndicate recruited City solicitors Shaw and Croft and gave them the task of tracking down and recovering as much of the money as possible.

The 1983 robbery
The robbers were not expecting to find gold worth 26m
Solicitor Bob McCunn has been working on the Brinks job ever since, and has an almost photographic memory of the case.

He has recovered 25m so far for the syndicate, although up to 9m of that has been deducted for his fee and costs.

Mr McCunn told BBC News Online: "People often ask me what percentage of the 26m have I recovered so far and I say I haven't got the faintest idea."

The bullion was worth 26m at 1983 gold prices but it was melted down and turned into poorer grade gold, before being sold and converted into cash.

Timetable
26 Nov 1983: Robbery at Brinks Mat's Heathrow depot. 26m in gold taken
Dec 1984: Micky McAvoy and Brian Robinson jailed for 25 years. Anthony White acquitted
Jan 1985: Detective Constable John Fordham stabbed to death by Kenneth Noye while on surveillance
Jul 1986: Noye, Garth Chappell and two other man convicted of handling stolen gold
Jul 1988: Michael Relton convicted
Aug 1992: Brian Perry, Gordon Parry and two others convicted of handling stolen goods
Oct 1995: White found liable for the full 26m
Nov 2001: Perry shot dead in south London

The cash was then put in various bank accounts and invested in property both in the UK and abroad.

Land and properties in London's Docklands, the Costa del Sol and Florida, as well as an oil well in Kansas, were snapped up with "dirty money".

The value of many of those properties rose significantly and it is therefore almost impossible to calculate how much of the Brinks Mat robbery proceeds is still missing.

Speaking from his office near London's Liverpool Street station, Mr McCunn told BBC News Online: "It's a bit like fishing in a very dark pond. You know how many fish you have caught, but you don't know how many are still in the pond.

"In the mid 1990s we said we would not spend any more money being pro-active. We said we'd react if information came up, and stuff still does turn up. We have recovered money within the last 18 months," he said.

It's a bit like fishing in a very dark pond - you know how many fish you have caught, but you don't know how many are still in the pond
Bob McCunn
Shaw & Croft always had a different agenda to the police.

Mr McCunn said: "The police wanted convictions. But I didn't give a monkeys about the convictions. What mattered to me was recovering the money.

"A lot of these people didn't understand that we were not an arm of the law. All we wanted was a cheque. We didn't want to send them to prison. We simply wanted the money back.

"Once the message got out there and they realised that is what we wanted we were able to conclude a lot of settlements."

In the early 1990s - after the criminal trials had concluded - Shaw & Croft began civil proceedings against 54 people who they believed had handled money or property which derived from the robbery.

In many cases these people had been entirely innocent of any crime but were nevertheless liable in a civil court.

Kathy McAvoy leaving court in 1980s
Mr McCunn obtained a judgement against McAvoy's wife, Kathy, and seized a house from her
Eventually Shaw & Croft made out-of-court settlements with all but two of the 54 - Anthony White and Anne Elcombe.

Between April and October 1995 a civil trial took place and a judge found Mrs Elcombe not liable for any of the money.

The judge also decided White - who had been acquitted of the robbery a decade earlier - was liable for the entire 26m.

Two years later White was later convicted of drug smuggling and jailed.

Mr McCunn does not expect to pursue him, nor is he planning any action against the two convicted robbers, Micky McAvoy and Brian "The Colonel" Robinson.

There is no doubt there is still money around from Brinks which is propping up legitimate and illegitimate businesses both here and in southern Spain
Wensley Clarkson
Kenneth Noye's biographer
McAvoy, who now lives in Spain, once offered to return much of the gold in return for a reduced sentence but by then his cohorts on the outside had already melted it down and invested it, much to his chagrin.

But Mr McCunn said: "That was actually a wise move because the price of gold has fallen since 1983. If we had not tumbled them McAvoy would have come out a rich man."

In November 2001 Brian Perry, one of the men supposedly entrusted with much of the loot, was shot dead near his office in Peckham, south London.

Perry had been freed a few months before after serving a sentence for helping launder the proceeds of the robbery and the murder - which remains unsolved - was widely perceived as a settling of scores.

Mr McCunn said the last 18 years had been hard work and sometimes dangerous.

Perry (pictured) was shot dead in November 2001
Mr McCunn said: "I have not personally been threatened but we did hear a contract had been taken out on one of our investigators in the US. On another occasion one of our investigators in Spain was tipped off that heroin had been planted in his hotel room.

"He left immediately, wearing just a t-shirt and shorts, and returned to Britain by a circuitous route and he looked very scared when he turned up in London."

Much of the proceeds - which was spent on cocaine and wild parties - will never be recovered.

But Mr McCunn keeps his ears and eyes open and believes more money may be recovered in the future.

Kenneth Noye's biographer, Wensley Clarkson, told BBC News Online: "There is no doubt there is still money around from Brinks which is propping up legitimate and illegitimate businesses both here and in southern Spain."




SEE ALSO:
Brinks Mat agent shot dead
18 Nov 01  |  England
Detectives renew appeal for hitman
27 Nov 99  |  UK News


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