Mon, Feb 27, 2006 - Page 6 News List

UK police say net closing on £50 million gang

THE OBSERVER , LONDON

Assistant Chief Constable Adrian Leppard speaking in front of the projection of a sketch during a press conference at Kent Police Headquarters in Maidstone, England, on Friday. This sketch shows an impression one of the armed robbers who played a key role in the multi-million pound robbery at the Securitas depot on Wednesday.

PHOTO: AP

At precisely 2pm, Andrew Leppard settled into a now familiar role. The assistant chief constable of Kent, in southeast England, is now famous. Famous as the public face of Britain's biggest ever robbery.

On Saturday, hosting yet another press conference on day four of the police investigation into the whereabouts of the ?50 million (US$87 million) taken from a Securitas warehouse, he gave more details.

Details of the feelings of the warehouse manager kidnapped and bundled into the back of a fake police car. Details about further arrests as the police hope that the noose is tightening against "the firm" behind the Tonbridge Heist. Details of the burnt-out cars, the van and the discarded money that might lead to a breakthrough.

It could have been worse. Although how much worse will not be known for several days, not until forensic scientists have finished combing the cash storage depot for clues. Banking sources have said that the gang that pulled off the heist did not take all the cash in the Securitas depot and that millions of pounds were left behind.

That the gang left some of the cash should be a concern to the detectives hunting them. The history of audacious robberies confirms that greed often undoes a criminal gang.

The Tonbridge gang appears different. Their subsequent decision to dump anything between ?1million and ?5 million in new, traceable, bank notes stored in the depot on behalf of the Bank of England, shows an unnerving awareness that, in terms of a successful robbery, less is sometimes more.

On Saturday police continued to search the van in which the traceable cash was found. It was discovered after a tip-off, opening up the possibility that the gang fled abroad on the Eurostar.

On Saturday night police were checking the train's passenger records in the hope of spotting a familiar name.

Of more concern to police is the whereabouts of the cash that wasn't owned by the Bank of England: the loose, used notes that were being sorted by the depot staff on behalf of banks and supermarkets in the Kent area.

The Securitas sorting team on duty on Tuesday night were sifting through the piles to see which notes were no longer fit for circulation. It is this money, which may total anything between ?20 million to ?30 million, that is the problem for police. It is virtually untraceable.

On Saturday Leppard remained confident that the criminals would be brought to book.

"We have had more than 800 calls from the public," he said.

During the conference a statement was read out on behalf of Colin Dixon, the Securitas manager who, along with his wife and son, was taken hostage by the gang.

"It was the worst night of my life," Dixon said, adding his family had been placed in "unimaginable danger."

Leppard's hopes of catching the gang were raised by a series of quick breakthroughs last week.

A number of vehicles linked to the gang were found scattered across locations in Kent. Then came two arrests. Michelle Hogg and Michael Demetris, make-up artists who specialize in false wigs and beards, were questioned on Friday. At least one member of the gang is thought to have worn a false beard when impersonating a police officer. Hogg and Demetris have been released on police bail without charge.

Then, on Saturday, two men were arrested in Kent under conspiracy to commit robbery.

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