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Monday, 18 February, 2002, 17:34 GMT
Dome diamond raiders jailed
Pictured top from left are: William Cockram, Robert Adams and Raymond Betson; bottom from left are Aldo Ciarrocchi and Kevin Meredith
The foiled raid involved "a gigantic sum"
Four men who attempted to pull off a daring 200m diamond heist at the Millennium Dome have been found guilty of conspiring to rob.

Gang members were caught by armed police as they smashed their way into the south east London attraction with an earth mover in November 2000.

The guilty men are:

  • Aldo Ciarrocchi, 32, of Bermondsey, London
  • William Cockram, 49, of Catford, London
  • Raymond Betson, 40, of Chatham, Kent
  • Robert Adams, 57, no fixed address

    A fifth man, Kevin Meredith, 34, of Aucklands Drive, Brighton, was cleared of conspiracy to rob but convicted of conspiracy to steal.

    Betson and Cockram were jailed for 18 years each. Adams and Ciarrocchi got 15 years each. Meredith was jailed for five years.

    The four had admitted conspiring to steal the 12 diamonds, including the Millennium Star, one of the world's largest gems, from the De Beers Millennium Exhibition, but denied the more serious charge of conspiracy to rob.

    Millennium Star diamond
    The Millennium Star was saved
    But the Old Bailey jury did not believe that they planned to complete the job without using any force, and found them guilty of the robbery plot charge.

    Sentencing, Judge Coombe told the men: "It was a wicked and highly professional crime."

    He said the foiled robbery involved "a gigantic sum" that would have been the largest in English legal history.

    And referring to the defence of Meredith, who sobbed when sentenced, he said: "In my years at the Bar and bench I have never heard a defence of duress with less merit or substance."

    River getaway

    During the trial, the court heard how the gang intended to snatch the stones by smashing their way into the Dome on an earthmover and escape across the River Thames by a speedboat.

    The sentences
    William Cockram: 18 years
    Raymond Betson: 18 years
    Robert Adams: 15 years
    Aldo Ciarrocchi: 15 years
    Kevin Meredith: 5 years

    They ram-raided their way into the Thames-side tourist attraction on a JCB earthmover, shortly after the Dome opened that morning.

    Adams and Cockram attempted to gain access to the armoured-glass display case using sledgehammers and a nail gun.

    Ciarrocchi threw smoke grenades towards tourists and staff, while Betson stayed outside in the earth mover.

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

    Unknown to the gang, police had switched the diamonds for replicas and were lying in wait.

    The gang had been under surveillance for five months, following a tip-off from a police informer.

    '12 inches from payday'

    Police caught the men - also equipped with body armour, bolt croppers and strong ammonia sprays - just inches away from grabbing the diamonds.

    More than 100 armed officers, many disguised as cleaners and Dome workers, rounded up the gang.

    The court heard how Adams - known as Bob the Builder - had confessed to police after his arrest.

    Millennium Dome
    The gang had a speedboat waiting on the Thames
    He told officer Brian McNamara: "I was 12 inches from pay day. It would have been a blinding Christmas."

    Adams described trying to break through the 50,000 three-quarter inch armoured plated glass vault with a sledgehammer.

    "I cannot believe how easily the glass went. I only hit it twice," he told the officer.

  •  WATCH/LISTEN
     ON THIS STORY
    Jon Shatford, Flying Squad
    "I am pleased that they have been heavily sentenced"
    The BBC's George Ekyn
    "The Flying Squad had been watching and filming them for more than five months"
    The BBC's June Kelly
    "The prosecution said the gang would have used force if they had to"

    Key stories

    Background

    The trial

    FACT FILE
    Picture gallery
    Smash and grab
    See also:

    Links to more England stories are at the foot of the page.


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