A police forensic officer enters the targeted building in central London’s diamond district.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
LONDON – Numerous Jewish diamond and jewelry businesses face major losses after the safe deposit vaults used by a majority of the trade centered in London’s Hatton Garden district was raided during the long Easter/Passover weekend.
Total losses could be in excess of £200 million, experts suggested.
Police were called early on Tuesday morning after staff discovered that between 60 and 70 deposit boxes at Hatton Garden Safe Deposit Ltd. had been opened by a gang who apparently hid themselves in among the 20 offices spread across seven upper floors of the building on Thursday afternoon, and used an elevator shaft to access the basement vaults during the weekend.
Hatton Garden has been the center of the diamond and jewelry trade for several hundred years and hosts nearly 300 manufacturing, wholesale and retail businesses, many if not a majority of which are Jewish. It is a center for many of the world’s major diamond dealers.
Most leave their diamonds and valuable jewelry in the safe deposit boxes over weekends and holidays, and in many cases because of tight price margins, do not insure the items, making assessing the total value of the thieves haul virtually impossible.
A dealer, who wanted to remain anonymous, said he had lost a six figure sum and that some of his colleagues had been “hit for millions.”
Most who had safe deposit boxes were due to be told late Wednesday if they have been robbed.
One source described how the robbers had tunneled their way through a wall into the elevator shaft, and then used ropes to rappel down to the basement using ropes, before drilling through into the vaults leaving what another said was “a hell of a mess.” He added, “There is a lot of building work going on nearby, so nobody would have thought any drilling was out of place.”
It emerged that the gang had triggered an alarm Friday night. Security guards carried out a brief check but found no signs of anything. One source maintained the police were alerted to the alarm; a police spokesman refused to comment on the subject.
Norman Bean, who estimates he lost £35,000 worth of diamonds and bracelets in one safe box, said he had spoken to one of the guards.
“He went downstairs looked through a door and through the windows but couldn’t see a thing so came out again.”
Bean added, “I asked him why didn’t he open up and look inside, and he told me he doesn’t get paid enough!” Private diamond dealer Neil Duttson said that tracking down any of the stolen gens would be near impossible.
“I imagine they will be sat on for six months,” he said, adding, “Once diamonds have been recut and polished there is no geological map. You can expect some cheap diamonds coming on the market soon.”
It was reported that there is no CCTV footage of the theft because the gang stole the system’s hard drive, which was stored nearby, suggesting some level of insider knowledge.
Several people have keys to the main entrance of the building, because its lavatories are used by nearby shops during business hours.
The Metropolitan Police’s Flying Squad was called in and one of its members, Barry Phillips, later said it was clear it was “a highly professional burglary.”
Hatton Garden Safe Deposit said on its website that it aims: “To provide our clients a secure and cost-effective solution to store and protect important and irreplaceable personal belongings.”