£200m jewel thieves may have started underground fire to cut power for massive heist
Published 10/04/2015 | 02:30
Scotland Yard has confirmed that an alarm was activated when thieves broke into a Hatton Garden safety deposit company in London, but refused to say whether or not police attended the scene.
Flying Squad Detective Chief Inspector Paul Johnson said there was no sign of forced entry at the business in London's diamond district and described the heist as "sophisticated" and "organised".
And a security expert also believes that a massive underground fire in the area at the time of the heist may have been caused by the gang in an effort to have power supplies cut off.
The raid, which took place over the Easter bank holiday weekend, is thought to have netted the thieves jewels worth up to £200m (€276m).
He revealed that raiders disabled the lift, shutting it off at the second floor before clambering down the lift shaft.
They then used a specialist Hilti DD350 diamond coring drill to bore their way through a two-metre-thick reinforced concrete wall in the basement.
DCI Johnson said his detectives had only recently gained access to the "chaotic" scene as forensic officers had been working there for the last 24 hours.
Property from the boxes, dust, debris and power tools were strewn across the floor, he added, noting that the investigation would be "painstaking".
He said: "The thieves have disabled the communal lift on the second floor and then used the lift shaft to climb down into the basement. They forced open shuttered doors into the basement.
"Once inside they forced open up to 70 safety deposit boxes. The scene is chaotic.
"The vault is covered in dust and debris and the floor is strewn with discarded safety deposit boxes and numerous power tools, including an angle grinder, concrete drills and crowbars."
Asked whether an alarm had sounded, he confirmed: "An alarm activated."
Meanwhile, John O'Connor, former head of Scotland Yard's Flying Squad, said he believed the blaze in Holborn - just over half a mile away - may have been started by the same gang that raided the Hatton Garden Safety Deposit's basement vault.
He suggested that the power outage would have made the vault easier to access.
He told LBC radio: "(The police) may be connecting it to the underground fire at Holborn station which disabled all the electricity in that area for a period of time. I think that probably was deliberate.
"I've never heard of an outage of electricity like that causing a fire that lasted as long as that. That seems to me as too much of a coincidence."
Barry Phillips, former operational head of the Flying Squad, said: "It's speculation, but the fire could possibly have been linked to the heist.
"There's no denying that the fire will have diverted local police officers and other police resources.
"It would have taken resources away from local patrols and officers would have been reassigned to the fire, which isn't far away - it's just round the corner."
The blaze broke out on Kingsway last Wednesday and took several hours to bring under control. It was not fully extinguished until late on Thursday and led to widespread power outages and road closures in the area. The burglars are believed to have broken into the safety deposit company two days later, on Good Friday.
The London Fire Brigade believes the fire was started due to an electrical fault in the Victorian tunnels which damaged an eight-inch gas main which ruptured and fuelled the fire.
Investigators found that the 10-foot deep tunnel was well maintained and there was no sign of deliberate fire setting.
But while emergency crews were battling the fire, the diamond thieves were just around the corner, orchestrating a highly sophisticated raid.
They are believed to have spent most of the bank holiday weekend smashing their way through concrete walls and drilling through 18-inch-thick metal doors to access the vaults.
DCI Johnson said the building where the theft took place comprised several businesses, with a communal entrance and a communal lift.
Hatton Garden Safety Deposit company is in the basement.
He said officers were still going through the process of contacting owners of the boxes to determine exactly what was taken. They are believed to have spoken to around 30 so far.
"We haven't identified yet all the boxes that have been interfered with," he added.
"It's a sophisticated theft and whether it involved some inside planning will form part of the investigation.
"It's organised, it's sophisticated."
A brand new alarm system had reportedly just been fitted, but had not yet been switched on.
Norman Bean, who has a diamond ring and bracelets stored in one of the vaults, said he was also told that the burglars entered through a lift shaft on Friday afternoon and evaded detection by security guards.
He said: "I came down and spoke to a security guard today. He said he came on Friday, the alarm was going off.
"He went downstairs, looked through the door, through the windows and couldn't see anything and came out again, that was it.
"I said well 'Why didn't you open up and have a look in?' He told me he doesn't get paid enough.
"They could have been there all weekend, who knows? It's a disgrace, it's like something out of a film. I can't believe it could happen."
Mr Bean said detectives told him he will find out tomorrow afternoon if his valuables have been stolen. (© Daily Telegraph, London)