Thursday 29 September 2016

Detectives found chaotic scenes after jewellery heist in exclusive London district

By Dominic Harris and Karen Kwok

Published 09/04/2015 | 16:06

Detective Chief Inspector Paul Johnson of the Flying Squad stands outside a safe deposit building on Hatton Garden in central London. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth
Detective Chief Inspector Paul Johnson of the Flying Squad stands outside a safe deposit building on Hatton Garden in central London. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth

Chaotic scenes met detectives as they entered the vault of a deposit box firm in London's Hatton Garden after a "sophisticated raid", Scotland Yard said.

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Property from the boxes, dust, debris and power tools were strewn across the scene when officers finally gained access to the vault after forensics officers had left.

Scotland Yard Flying Squad Detective Chief Inspector Paul Johnson was reluctant to reveal any more information about what he described as an "organised" operation.

He said that getting to the bottom of what happened at the building over the Easter weekend would be a "painstaking and meticulous" process.

Speaking at a press conference outside Hatton Garden Safety Deposit Company, he said: "There was no sign of a forced entry to the outside of the building. The thieves have disabled the communal lift on the second floor and then used the lift shaft to climb down into the basement."

He added that the shutter doors had been forced open and detailed some of the equipment - including a heavy duty Hilti DD35 drill worth £3,000 - that had been used to bore holes into the vault wall.

A police forensics officer enters the Hatton Garden Safe Deposit company, in London Photo credit: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire
A police forensics officer enters the Hatton Garden Safe Deposit company, in London Photo credit: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

"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," said Mr Johnson.

It was also confirmed that officers are still in the process of identifying all the owners of the safety deposit boxes, with only 30 being identified so far.

Officers are gathering and examining CCTV to identify any possible leads, and will also look into reports that the alarm on site was activated on Good Friday.

Although Mr Johnson would not give details of the items believed to have been stolen, diamonds, jewellery and gold are thought to form part of the haul.

One deposit box owner, who does not yet know if his own deposit box is among those raided, said he had been told only people whose boxes were definitely hit would be contacted.

He said: "They won't call if there is nothing wrong because there are 600 safe boxes down there."

The man also said he understood that some of the boxes had just been tampered with.

He said: "I suppose they have just picked what they want from the boxes. Some of the things can't sell, so it is just gold, diamonds or cash."

Aadil Shaikh, an investment banker whose father has a deposit box with the company, said people were "shell-shocked" and businesses had come to a standstill.

He spoke of his anger at still not knowing whose boxes had been affected, saying: "Either they have been broken into or not."

Mr Shaikh said: "We deserve an answer. It has been close to 76 hours and it is preposterous that we have been made to wait like this.

"Look around you, look at the industry, it is at a standstill. It is not a joke, people's livelihoods are at stake."

Mr Shaikh said it was a "moot point" whether people were insured or not.

He said: "If you insure a product, why on Earth would you want to keep it in a safe deposit box? It defeats the purpose.

"We expect state-of-the-art security over here, this is Hatton Garden we are talking about, and this place had been broken into twice before.

"Why wasn't there seismic meters, why wasn't there a fail-safe for an alarm system going off?

"These are questions that need to be adequately answered and at the moment there has been no answer whatsoever, no assurances been made and people, as if they are cattle, made to wait to be slaughtered.

"It is a very undignified way of treating clients."

Mr Shaikh said he had been given no information at all on whether his family's deposit box had been raided - which held family and personal jewellery, including his wife's - describing it as "a complete blackout". He criticised the police statement as a "non-event" and described the situation he and other deposit box holders were left in as "a really big blur". He said: "It is an abomination, preposterous, the whole security system and the police response to it.

One woman whose jeweller husband has a deposit box with Hatton Garden said: "I am shocked. I think they should have done a much better job."

Another deposit box holder, who declined to be named, said he could not understand why police were unable to tell them whose boxes had been affected. He said: "They should clearly see the numbers on the safe boxes, there are individual numbers on them. It doesn't make any sense for us and we are still waiting."

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