Fri, Feb 24, 2006 - Page 1 News List

British police hunt robbery gang

HUGE HEIST The Bank of England has said US$43.56 million of its money was stolen, but reports said the armed gang's haul could have exceeded US$70 million

AGENCIES , LONDON

Detectives hunted yesterday for an "armed and dangerous" gang who posed as police to steal up to 40 million pounds (US$70 million) in one of Britain's biggest robberies.

Police said the perpetrators were "highly sophisticated" and had planned their audacious raid in detail, subjecting their hostages to a "terrifying ordeal."

Six raiders snatched the manager of a security depot, took his family hostage and threatened to kill them unless he helped them get inside the compound, police said.

"These men were armed, dangerous and violently threatening," Detective Superintendent Paul Gladstone said. "They held the manager in fear of his life and that of his wife and son's for more than six hours and threatened to kill him and his family before raiding the depot."

The Bank of England, Britain's central bank, confirmed that ?25 million (US$43.56 million) of its money had been stolen. Media reports said the final tally may be more than ?40 million, making it Britain's largest cash robbery.

If confirmed, it would eclipse the theft in 2004 of ?26.5 million from a bank in Northern Ireland.

Police said no one was injured in the raid on the depot in Tonbridge, Kent, 30km southeast of London.

The depot, run by Sweden's Securitas, the world's biggest security firm, is surrounded by a metal fence and cameras. It stores banknotes used in shops across London and the southeast. The final amount taken would not be known until forensic experts had finished searching the crime scene.

Gladstone said raiders in an unmarked car with police-style blue lights in its front grille, pulled over the depot manager as he drove home from work on Tuesday. He was told to cooperate or his family would be killed. At the same time, his wife and son were abducted by raiders dressed as police.

Early on Wednesday, a group of six men, some armed with handguns, threatened and tied up around 15 staff at the depot. They then spent more than an hour loading a white truck with cash before escaping.

The shocked but uninjured staff activated an alarm around an hour later. The manager, his wife and son were also unhurt.

The Guardian newspaper said it was thought that the gang may have known that February is the month when the greatest amount of money is taken out of circulation and held briefly in storage.

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