A gang of burglars escaped with a "huge" haul of jewels and cash following a heist at a safety deposit centre in London's Hatton Garden jewellery quarter over the Easter weekend. Officers from the Met's Flying Squad are investigating the raid after police were called to the Hatton Garden Safe Deposit company in central London this morning.
The burglars used heavy equipment to break into several deposit boxes in a vault at the address over the Bank Holiday weekend. Boxes at the store are mainly used by Hatton Garden jewellers and gold dealers, with reports suggesting that up to 300 might have been broken into.
Norman Bean, who has a diamond ring and bracelets stored in one of the vaults, said the burglars are believed to have 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 disgrace, it's like something out of a film. I can't believe it could happen."
Bean said detectives told him he will find out tomorrow afternoon if his valuables have been stolen.
Diamond jewellery expert Lewis Malka, who works in Hatton Garden, explained that the boxes would mainly have been storing jewellery and loose diamonds in packets. He said: "From what I understand it happened over the weekend and it looked like they had come in through the lift shaft and gone into the basement where the safety deposit is. Most of the people who have got safety deposits there are people in the trade. I know for a fact that some of my work colleagues have got boxes down there and we are talking about hundreds and hundreds of thousands of pounds in goods.
He added: "The police aren't allowing anyone in yet, so no one is too sure whose box has or hasn't been touched. With the robbers having probably four days over the Easter weekend, there's a good chance that they went through everything."
Officers in forensic suits could be seen leaving the Hatton Garden Safety Deposit building with evidence bags and boxes. There was no visible damage to the outside of the property, other than a loose wire in the side of the door.
Thelma West, a gemologist, designer and private jeweller who works in London and Anwerp, tweeted: "Robbery at one of the biggest safe deposits in Hatton Garden over the Easter weekend. The loss is huge. A lot of jewellers and dealers put their stock in safe deposits over holiday periods. Easter and Pesach (the Jewish holiday of Passover, celebrated April 3 to 11 this year) meant very quiet Hatton Garden."
A Scotland Yard spokeswoman said: "At approximately 8.10 today police were called to a report of a burglary at a safety deposit business at Hatton Garden. The Flying Squad is investigating and detectives are currently at the scene. It appears that heavy cutting equipment has been used to get into a vault at the address, and a number of safety deposit boxes have been broken into. Enquiries are ongoing."
It is not the first time safe deposit boxes have been targeted in the Hatton Garden area, which is well known for its diamond and gold trade. In 2003 jewellery, cash and valuables worth an estimated £1.5 million were stolen when a criminal emptied a number of boxes at the Hatton Garden Safe Deposit Co after posing as a customer.
London suffered another famous safety deposit raid when the Knightsbridge Safe Deposit Centre suffered what is believed to be one of the largest robberies in history in July 1987. Two armed robbers asked to rent a safe deposit box and, after being shown into the vault, produced hand guns and made off with an estimated hoard of £60 million.
Valerio Viccei, the Italian mastermind behind the heist, was arrested as he returned to England to ship his Ferrari Testarrosa to Latin America and sentenced to 22 years.