£40m Graff’s heist: echoes of great train robbery
In today’s money, Ronnie Biggs’s 1963 haul was worth exactly the same as the jewels stolen in the New Bond Street raid
While the 'great train robber' Ronnie Biggs was hogging the headlines over his successful bid for freedom last week, two men who might have been his accomplices, had they lived in a different time, made off with a haul of gems from a New Bond Street jeweller's worth almost exactly the same as the train robbers' 1963 haul of cash.
The gang that walked out of Graff's on Thursday afternoon, firing their handguns, escaped with £40m worth of jewels and watches; the great train robbers got £2.6m in used banknotes when they stopped the Glasgow to London mail train - which in today's money is reckoned also to be worth £40m.
The difference in media coverage is startling: the great train robbery and subsequent manhunt became the stuff of instant myth - hence the interest even today in Biggs's fate.
But the extent of the Graff's robbery was kept secret for almost a week, apparently because insurance loss adjustors were loathe to reveal anything that might encourage other robbers. A Flying Squad source told the Sun newspaper yesterday: "We were only made aware today about the value of what went missing... We are now five days behind."
And in an age when white-collar criminals like Bernie Madoff don't need to leave their corporate offices, let alone carry guns and use getaway cars, to steal billions, there's something vaguely quaint about an old-fashioned heist.
The Graff's gang appears to be only five-strong in comparison with the 15 great train robbers. But they are clearly on a par in terms of the precise planning, the threat of violence and the chutzpah of the thieves.
It transpires that two men in their 30s, one black, one white, both wearing grey suits, and with London accents, were let in to Graff's by a security man at about 4.40pm last Thursday. With no other customers present, they pulled out handguns, ordered staff to lie on the floor and forced a woman to open a display case.
Having bagged several exquisite pieces, including a man's watch worth £3m alone, the pair walked out into New Bond Street taking the female shop assistant hostage.
When a store security guard followed them, they fired a warning shot into the ground before climbing into a blue BMW and leaving the women behind. They fired another shot from the getaway car. At which point they followed what was clearly a well-rehearsed escape plan.
Around the corner in Dover Street, one of the men in the BMW handed a package to a motorcyclist who drove off. The gang then abandoned the BMW and switched to a waiting Mercedes which headed for Berkeley Square. In Farm Street, they changed cars again - this time for a black people carrier. Which was the last anyone saw of them.
Including the motorcyclist and two getaway drivers, as well as the pair who entered Graff's, police are now hunting at least five men. Given their precise planning, however, it is thought likely they are already abroad.
One subtle difference between the Graff's gang and the train robbers, which will not be lost on Ronnie Biggs, now feeling remarkably better having been granted his 'deathbed' wish for freedom by Justice Secretary Jack Straw, is that the jewellery robbers belong to the age of celebrity: a former Flying Squad commander, John O'Connor, discussing the raid, said the shop should have opened by appointment only - but eager staff may have mistaken the thieves for VIPs. ·