Saturday 24 March 2018

Dubliner and the Diamond Geezers

The unlikely Irish plumber at the centre of the spectacular €31m Hatton Garden heist

Hugh Doyle
Hugh Doyle
Kim Bielenberg

Kim Bielenberg

On the face of it, the Dubliner Hugh Doyle seems a most unlikely figure to have been involved in the most audacious jewellery robbery in recent memory. The 48-year-old father of two, educated at Marian College in Dublin 4, runs a plumbing business based in Enfield, North London.

Unlike most of the other raiders convicted for the Hatton Garden robbery of €31m of jewels, gold and other valuables, Doyle does not have a reputation as an old lag and career criminal.

Originally from Holles Street in Dublin, he has continued working in his plumbing business since he was granted bail, and has worn his company uniform at court hearings.

As recently as January 15, a testimonial on his company website commends the firm for its "great service", and earlier a satisfied customer described Doyle as a "perfect gentleman".

He recently told a reporter that he is a Catholic atheist, and occupied himself while on remand in prison reading the works of Christopher Hitchens and having debates about religion with al-Qaida inmates. He may not believe in God, but his Irish relatives have reportedly been busy lighting candles for him. He will certainly need their prayers. On March 7, Doyle will be sentenced after being convicted at Woolwich Crown Court of the charge of concealing, converting or transferring criminal property.

The Dubliner did not play take a direct part in the robbery, but his yard in Enfield was used as an exchange point for the vast haul of stolen gems. He has said he was "gutted" after his conviction and is likely to appeal.

At the age of 48, Doyle is the youngster in the group connected with the heist, described in court as the 'largest burglary in English legal history'. The ringleader in the group, Brian Reader (76), shows that in crime, as in everything else, you are only as young as you feel. He was known as "the Guv'nor".

Prior to Doyle's conviction, John 'Kenny' Collins (75), Daniel Jones (60), Terry Perkins (67), and Reader (76) pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit burglary.

Dressed in a Tommy Cooper style Fez and his mother's dressing gown, the experienced crook Jones had spent hours at his computer researching the perfect heist.

Over pints of lager and glasses of vodka and tonic, the men would gather at the Castle Pub in Islington to plot the raid.

Having somehow gained access to a building opposite the Hatton Garden Safe Deposit Company, they were able to spend hours monitoring the comings and goings of the staff.

CCTV footage showed Collins' distinctive white Mercedes cruising around the Hatton Garden area in the weeks leading up to the raid, demonstrating the meticulous level of planning that went into the job.

They used a book called Forensics for Dummies in a bid to avoid leaving a DNA trail.

At 6pm on the Thursday before Easter last year, security guards locked the vault in the Hatton Garden Safe Deposit Company and set the alarms for the long bank holiday weekend ahead. The gang were dressed in high-visibility clothing and overalls appearing to any unsuspecting passer-by to be workmen carrying out vital maintenance.

Just before 9.20pm, the gang's 'inside man', a mysterious figure referred to as 'Basil', let himself into the building. He is the one member of the gang who is still at large.

While the raiders entered the building with drilling and cutting equipment, Collins was supposed to be the look-out man in a building opposite. However, he later admitted that he had nodded off during his watch.

Making their way along the ground floor, the burglars lowered themselves down the lift shaft to gain access to the basement vaults. However, when Basil opened a door in the complex, an automatic text message was sent from the disabled alarm system to a security company and police were called. Due to a mix-up, police officers were not sent to the scene, however, and security guards thought it was a false alarm.

The gang first cut though the inside metal gate but then a hydraulic ram they were using broke down. The gang then left for a time, and while some of the gang returned later with a new ram, two got cold feet and did not participate further.

Finally over the weekend, the remaining gang members gained access to the vault and once inside they opened and ransacked 73 of the 999 safe deposit boxes, uncovering a vast haul of diamonds, jewellery, gold, cash and other valuables. Using two large green wheelie bin, they left with a haul that has been estimated at up to €31m in value.

Their next task was to 'fence' the proceeds and turn gems and gold into cash. The vast majority of the lower value gems and gold were then stored for several weeks before some of the haul was taken to Doyle's yard in Enfield.

Doyle told the jury he had no knowledge of what the group were planning. He was a regular drinking partner of some of them, and described them as "just funny guys". He said Collins was a "real Arthur Daley character".

Although they did not leave forensic clues at the scene of the raid, the gang were tracked down using phone data, and a sighting of the Mercedes in the run-up to the raid.

Even the police officers at the scene admitted to being taken aback by the vast quantity of gems, precious metal and jewellery, and much of it is still unaccounted for. It may never be known how much was actually taken.

The gas and plumbing business run by Hugh Doyle still seems to have been operating since his conviction. A woman at the business number answered and politely took a message this week, but by Thursday morning Doyle had not returned our call.

Doyle, who went to London from Dublin as a teenager before settling in Enfield, even stars in a YouTube video, where he gives advice to people on how to become a plumber. He said he previously worked as a printer in the City of London, but retrained as because he wanted to work with his hands.

In the video he warns aspiring plumbers to be careful who they train with, because "there are a lot of rogues out there".

In press reports after the raid, neighbours expressed shock: "Everyone knows him. He was not a bad man, he was a helpful person always willing to lend a hand." And, after the court case, Doyle himself said: "This whole thing has been an odyssey."

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