The UK's best and biggest heists

Written by rob macintosh
The UK's best and biggest heists
Stick up. (Getty Editorial)

What is it about a good heist that seems so irresistibly glamorous to the work-a-day man in the street? Hollywood has much to answer for, but even in the days of Dick Turpin, high profile robbers achieved celebrity status and were admired as much as vilified. Getting one over on a bank or big business may be all the more tempting in these days of austerity and bank bail outs, but most sound minded people would stop themselves long before blazing into their local branch of Halifax with a sawn-off. The people involved in the following heists felt no such compunction. Some of them got away with it.

The Great Train Robbery - £2.6m (1963)

The UK's best and biggest heists
Nicked. (Getty Images/Getty Images News/Getty Images)

The Royal Mail train, which was travelling between Glasgow and London was stopped near Ledburn with a fake signal that the thieves had rigged up. Although they weren't armed they made off with the cash - most of which was found in the months after the heist. Most of the men involved were given sentences of up to 30 years, but one of them - the notorious Ronnie Biggs - escaped from Wandsworth prison and fled to Brazil. He returned to the UK in 2001 to serve the rest of his sentence but was released on compassionate grounds in 2009.

Related: The most notorious British gangsters

Security Express - £6m (1983)

The UK's best and biggest heists
Security. (Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images News/Getty Images)

On Easter Sunday 1983 a group of Londoners broke into the Security Express warehouse in Shoreditch. They escaped with £6m in cash - none of which was found. John Knight was jailed for 22 years for his part in the robbery. His brother Ronnie, who was formerly married to actress Barbara Windsor, escaped to Spain after his brother was arrested, but was jailed 10 years later for his involvement.

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Midland Bank Clearing Centre £6.6m (1995)

The UK's best and biggest heists
Gun point. (Getty Editorial)

While making a delivery of cheques in Greater Manchester, two Securicor van guards were held up and gunpoint and driven to a quiet cul de sac before being robbed. Thieves transferred the cash to a white Transit van before making off. The van driver was accused of being the inside man and was convicted in 2002 along with one other. However, two years later both convictions were quashed by the court of appeal. None of the money was ever found.

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Bank of America - £8m (1976)

The UK's best and biggest heists
Robbed. (Scott Olson/Getty Images News/Getty Images)

This was the gang's second attempt at robbing the Mayfair bank. During the previous attempt they tried to drill into the vault lock. However, the second time, Stuart Buckley, who worked as an electrician at the bank, concealed himself in the roof space above the vault door and memorised the combination when a worker opened the door. Buckley, who received an eight year sentence, turned police informant and his cohorts received sentences ranging up to 22 years. It is believed the main man behind the theft fled to Morocco and evaded police. Only £500,000 of the £8m was recovered.

Related: How to survive prison

Graff jewellers - £23m (2003)

The UK's best and biggest heists
Diamonds are forever? (Paul Katz/Digital Vision/Getty Images)

A gang known by Interpol as The Pink Panthers is believed to have been responsible for this jewel heist undertaken in 2003. Forty-seven pieces were taken by two gunmen, but only one piece was found. The gang are believed to be Serbian and could be comprised of hundreds of members. More than £500m is believed to have been stolen internationally by the gang, whose name comes from the Pink Panther spoof detective films.

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Brink's-MAT robbery - £26m (1983)

The UK's best and biggest heists
Three tonnes of gold bullion was taken. (Paul Katz/Photodisc/Getty Images)

The six men who broke into the Brink's-MAT security company warehouse at Heathrow airport on November 26 1983. They thought they were going to steal £3m in cash, but instead helped themselves to three tonnes of gold bullion, cash and diamonds. Workers were doused in petrol and threatened with a match if they didn't give the combination to the vault. Again, the inside man ratted out the robbers and four men were convicted. Most of the gold was never recovered.

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Northern Bank robbery - £26.5m (2004)

The UK's best and biggest heists
All Northern Bank cash was recalled. (Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images)

The largest unsolved robbery in UK history, the theft of £26.5m from the central Belfast branch of the Northern Bank has been blamed on the Provisional IRA. Two groups of armed men went to the homes of two of the bank's workers on the night of December 19 2004. While holding the families of the two men hostage the workers went to work as usual but were directed to stay late that evening when members of the gang were let into the bank to start removing cash. The haul included £10m of uncirculated Northern Bank sterling banknotes, £5.5m of used Northern Bank sterling notes, £4.5m of circulated sterling notes issued by other banks, and small amounts of other currencies, mainly euros and US dollars. As a result of the robbery, all £300 million worth of the Northern Bank's banknotes in denominations of £10 or more were recalled and reissued in different colours with a new logo and new serial numbers.

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Graff Diamonds jewellers - £40m (2009)

The UK's best and biggest heists
Graff's second big robbery came in 2009. (Dan Kitwood/Getty Images News/Getty Images)

On August 6 2009 Craig Calderwood and Aman Kassaye walked into Graff Diamonds on London's and held up the shop with handguns. They stole 43 different gems before fleeing. Before the robbery both had used the services of a professional make-up artist to disguise themselves, telling the artist the make up, wigs and latex masks were for a music video. They used two getaway cars but left a pay as you go mobile phone in one of them. Five men were later convicted for their parts in the theft and received sentences of between 16 and 23 years. Calderwood said he was intimidated into the crime by threats against himself and his family but was sentenced to 21 years after a retrial.

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Knightsbridge Safe Deposit Centre - £40m (1987)

The UK's best and biggest heists
Safe? (Ryan McVay/Photodisc/Getty Images)

This robbery, led by Italian criminal playboy Valerio Viccei, could with some justification claim to be the biggest in British history, given that the estimated haul would be worth more than £100m in today's money. On July 12 1987 two men walked into the centre and asked to rent a safe deposit box. Once inside they took out guns and let other members of the gang in after hanging up signs saying the centre was temporarily closed. The true value of the haul was never properly calculated because of some safe deposit box owners' reluctance to reveal what they had stored. Viccei fled the UK but later returned to ship his Ferrari and was arrested and sentenced to 22 years. He was transferred to Italy but was shot dead in 2000 during day release.

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Securitas Depot Robbery - £53.1m (2006)

The UK's best and biggest heists
Cages of cash were emptied by the robbers. (Pool/Getty Images News/Getty Images)

The biggest cash robbery in British history. On February 21 2006 an armed gang posing as police officers took the manager of the Securitas cash depot in Kent and his family hostage. They took the manager to the Tonbridge depot and unloaded cages of cash after tying up 14 workers and locking them in the cages. A £2m reward was offered and soon afterwards five people were convicted of the robbery and sentenced to between 10 and 25 years. Around £20m was recovered. Coincidentally, the robbers used the services of the same make-up artists as the theives who were to later hold up Graff Diamonds in 2009.

Related: How to become a crime scene investigator

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