Britain's biggest theft: Three more found guilty

Police custody images of the Hatton Garden criminals (top row, left to right): Terrence Perkins, John Collins and Daniel Jones. (Middle row, left to right): Brian Reader, Hugh Doyle and William Lincoln. (Left): Carl Wood. They conspired to steal US$2
Police custody images of the Hatton Garden criminals (top row, left to right): Terrence Perkins, John Collins, Daniel Jones and Brian Reader. (second row, left to right) Hugh Doyle, William Lincoln and Carl Wood. They conspired to steal US$20 million (S$28 million) in gold, jewellery and gems from the Hatton Garden Safe Deposit in London.

Four elderly ringleaders in $29m burglary pleaded guilty earlier and are awaiting sentencing; another man at large

LONDON • It has been called the largest burglary in Britain: Four ageing thieves who conspired to steal about £14 million (S$29 million) in gold, jewellery and gems from the Hatton Garden Safe Deposit in London, aided by the book Forensics For Dummies and diamond-tipped power drills that could penetrate concrete.

The four ringleaders pleaded guilty to the theft last year and are in jail awaiting sentencing.

On Thursday, a jury in London found three other men - Hugh Doyle, 48; William Lincoln, 50; and Carl Wood, 58 - guilty of involvement in the burglary.

Lincoln and Wood were found guilty of conspiracy to commit burglary and conspiracy to conceal, convert or transfer criminal property. Doyle was found guilty of concealing, converting or transferring criminal property.

A fourth man, Jon Harbinson, 42, Lincoln's nephew, was cleared of any involvement with the theft.

The brazen nature of the crime left many asking how the thieves were able to infiltrate a vault in the heart of Hatton Garden, which has been the centre of London's diamond trade for centuries.

The police later apologised after it emerged that they had failed to respond to an alert prompted by a motion-triggered alarm that went off at the safe deposit, which was reinforced by concrete.

Scotland Yard on Thursday said the theft had been meticulously planned over three years and that the advanced age of the ringleaders - John Collins, known as Kenny, 75; Daniel Jones, 60; Terrence Perkins, 67; and a 76-year-old pensioner, Brian Reader, whom the others referred to as "The Master" - should not detract from the callousness of the crime or the fiendishness of the criminals.

Among the victims were dozens of pensioners, including some who had put their life savings in the safe deposit boxes.

Detective Chief Inspector Paul Johnson, along with other investigators on the case, emphasised that the men were dangerous criminals with violent pasts who deserved no sympathy.

"I don't think their age counted against them," he said. "It was the perfect disguise."

The police are still looking for another suspect, described by officers as a red-headed man whom they called Basil.

During the trial, prosecutors characterised the thieves as plucky, determined, boastful and, in some cases, eccentric.

The jury heard how Jones sometimes slept in his mother's dressing gown and a fez, accompanied by his dog, Rocket. He avidly researched and read about crime and was interested in fortune-telling. Wood told Woolwich Crown Court that Jones would sleep in a sleeping bag and urinate into a bottle. "He was a bit of a Walter Mitty," Wood said.

Prosecutors said Wood was thousands of pounds in debt and "living on the bread line" but had got cold feet midway through the burglary when he discovered a door was locked.

Reader had a murky past with links to the criminal underworld, prosecutors said.

The police were able to solve the burglary using surveillance footage from the Hatton Garden area that had caught the men on camera; the police later bugged several of their cars and overheard the men boasting about the heist in Cockney rhyming slang.

Officers also eavesdropped on the men at a pub in a north London neighbourhood as they discussed how to divide and sell the stolen goods. After a few pints of beer, the men became more and more boastful, unaware they were being observed and recorded, the police said.

NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 16, 2016, with the headline 'Britain's biggest theft: Three more found guilty'. Print Edition | Subscribe