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Saturday, 15 April, 2000, 10:24 GMT 11:24 UK
Brinks Mat gold: The unsolved mystery
Noye's villa in Andalucia
Golden sands: The view from Noye's Spanish villa
It is 17 years since a gang of armed, masked robbers burst into a warehouse near Heathrow Airport one November night, beat up and poured petrol over the security guards, and made off with the goods they were guarding.

It was a South London gang at work, but it was no ordinary London robbery.

The property under guard was gold. Three tons of gold: 6,800 bars of it, packed into 76 cardboard boxes. And two boxes of diamonds.

And some of the stolen goods ended up in Kenneth Noye's hands - he was jailed for 14 years for his crime.

The six-strong gang had planned the raid with meticulous care and got away with the biggest haul in British criminal history.

Noye's villa in Andalucia
Life of luxury: Kenneth Noye bought this Spanish villa
Years later, the vast bulk of the bullion remains unrecovered.

Some gold was melted down by a businessman near Bath.

Some simply vanished into a criminal underworld and reappeared in foreign bank accounts in Luxembourg, Switzerland, the Cayman Islands, Miami and the Bahamas.

In one short period, 3m cash was withdrawn from a bank in Bristol, requiring the Bank of England to supply so many notes that even the Treasury had to be informed.

And the gang - even those eventually jailed - is believed to have become wealthy.

Some, like Kenneth Noye, lived off the proceeds in luxury homes in the UK and the Costa del Sol.

Brinks Mat logo
Most of the gold remains missing despite huge rewards
After escaping from Heathrow with their haul, the robbers needed help to turn the gold into clean cash.

They called upon criminals with specialist knowledge, and that was where Kenneth Noye came in.

He was an expert in his field, and paid such attention to detail that he even mixed some of the gold with copper coins to change its purity and disguise its origins.

Some men who had played a part in the raid were eventually brought to justice.

Benefit claimant

Micky McAvoy and Brian Robinson were both jailed for 25 years.

A third man, Anthony White was cleared because of a lack of evidence.

But within a short time White, a benefit claimant who lived in a council house, had spent more than 400,000 buying and restoring homes in London and Kent. And in Spain police found 115,000 in cash and jewellery worth 100,000.

Kenneth Noye's pool
Pool with a view: Noye's outlook on the sea
White was finally jailed for 11 years in 1997 for his part in a massive drug-smuggling ring.

Also cleared of involvement was a businessman friend of Kenneth Noye, who admitted melting down gold bars from the raid but insisted he did not know where they had come from.

Noye was jailed for helping launder the proceeds, but not before he had stabbed to death an undercover detective, John Fordham, who was staking out his Kent home in the search for evidence.

However Noye was cleared of the murder after he pleaded self-defence.

Dogged police work

So a handful of men were jailed, but police think up to 15 people took part in planning and executing the robbery. They believe they know their names, and some of the bank accounts they opened in tax havens in Jersey and elsewhere.

Despite dogged police work spanning nearly two decades, it it seems most of those involved have simply got away with it - and most of the gold will never be recovered.

But some believe it is closer at hand.

It is claimed in some quarters that anyone wearing gold jewellery bought in the UK after 1983, is probably wearing Brinks Mat.

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14 Apr 00 | Latest News
Noye sentenced to life for murder
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