Thieves 'abseil down lift shaft' in Easter jewellery heist in exclusive London district
Plot of robbery mirrors that of Hollywood movie
Jewels worth tens of millions of pounds were stolen during a raid on hundreds of safety deposit boxes in Hatton Garden, London's most exclusive jewellery district.
Burglars are believed to have used heavy cutting equipment to cut through the roof before abseiling down a lift shaft to access the vault over the Easter weekend.
They disabled the alarm system, leaving them four days to plunder around 300 boxes in the vault over the Bank Holiday.
Former Flying Squad chief Roy Ramm said he "would not be surprised" if the stolen gems were worth £200 million, although he said the figure would probably never be declared in full.
He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "There's a sort of old-fashioned audacity about it.
"The amount of money and the goods that are taken is never fully revealed... and there's a good chance that not everybody would declare.
"I would not be surprised, given where this one is in Hatton Garden, if £200m is around about the amount stolen."
Scotland Yard said officers were called to the scene at about 8.10am on Tuesday.
A source told The Sun: "The thieves tunnelled their way through one wall and then through another into the building's lift shaft.
"Then they used ropes to abseil down the shaft to the basement and smashed their way through a false wall into the vault."
Jewellers, who use the safes to store their stock during long weekends, fear a vast amount of diamonds, watches and cash have been taken.
Among the most valuable items feared to have been stolen is a half-cut aqua diamond worth £500,000.
The raid is understood to have taken place at Hatton Garden Safe Deposit Ltd at 88-90 Hatton Garden.
It is thought the burglary was only discovered on Tuesday morning as staff returned to work following the long Bank Holiday weekend.
With much of the area being deserted for Easter, the raiders would have had plenty of time to gain entry to the secure premises.
Although the alarm sounded on Friday, no action was taken as the front and back doors of the building appeared to be secure
A source at the safe deposit company told The Times that a member of staff checked the alarm but gave the all-clear. It is understood that the main caretaker, who would have been likely to call the police, was not informed about the alarm.
It was also reported that there is no CCTV footage of the theft because the gang stole the system's hard drive, which was stored near by, suggesting some level of insider knowledge.
Several people are said to have keys to the main entrance of the building because its lavatories are used by nearby shops during business hours.
Mohammed Shah, a precious stones wholesaler, said that he had about £100,000 worth of gems in a box.
"Everybody wants to know what has been taken but the police are not telling us anything," he told The Times. "I am waiting to find out They said they could maybe tell me tomorrow. I am insured but many people who use these boxes are not. The truth is nobody really knows what is kept in these boxes."
Scotland Yard's Flying Squad is investigating.
On its website, Hatton Garden Safe Deposit Ltd said it was founded in 1954 "making it one of the first companies in the UK to offer safe deposit boxes."
It also claims to be "currently one of London’s most successful and leading safe deposit company aiming to provide our clients a secure and cost-effective solution to store and protect important and irreplaceable personal belongings".
The raid mirrors the basic plot of the film Sexy Beast starring Sir Ben Kingsley and Ray Winstone, in which a gang used heavy cutting equipment to break into the safe deposit vault of a bank over a holiday weekend.
Hatton Garden is the centre of London's gem and precious metal trade and many of the local jewellery businesses in the area are understood to store stock at the safe deposit company.
Angry customers began gathering outside the raided deposit store concerned that they may have lost millions of pounds in jewellery.
As police searched the property worried local businessmen who keep their wares stored there were left waiting to find out if their stock had been stolen.
Norman Bean, who has a diamond ring and bracelets stored in one of the vaults, said that he spoke to the security guard who checked the alarm on Friday.
Mr Bean said: "He went downstairs, looked through the door, through the windows and couldn't see anything and came out again, that was it ... They could have been there all weekend, who knows? "It's disgrace. It's like something out of a film. I can't believe it could happen."
Another said: "I'm incredibly concerned, I've got more than 40 years of stock in there and they won't tell me anything."
Others speculated how thieves could have dug under the store into the basement where the deposit boxes are held.
One local jeweller said: "It's not the first time this has happened. They were robbed about five years ago."
Meanwhile forensic officers continued to work inside the building in an attempt to gather vital clues as to the identity of the raiders.
Police officers also carried out door to door enquiries with local business owners.
However, with the raid taking place over the Easter and Passover holiday many of the Jewish owned firms in the area had been on an extended four day weekend.
It may be difficult for detectives to put an exact value on what has been stolen due to the secretive nature of what is kept in safety deposit boxes.
It is not the first time safe deposit boxes have been targeted in the area which is well known for its diamond and gold trade.
In 1975 armed robbers burst into the Hatton Garden Safe Deposit Co, threatened staff and made off with an estimated £1.5 million in gems, cash and other valuables.
Again in 2003 owners lost a fortune when a criminal emptied a number of boxes after posing as a customer.
When police raided more than 6,000 safety deposit boxes in June 2008 more than £53 million in cash was impounded, some of it stuffed into supermarket bags.
Most of the money, said the Met, was 'the proceeds of armed robberies and international drug trafficking'.
Guns, illegal drugs and enough diamonds and pearls to 'string up as bunting for a street party' were also found.