On August 6, 2009, two men entered the Graffs Diamonds emporium on Bond Street in London. They looked well dressed and although they were wearing black leather gloves, the security folks were aware that some of their clients were a bit, well, eccentric, and paid it no mind.
After briefly browsing through the wares, the younger of the pair pulled out a gun, and the other a large bag. He shouted, "This is a robbery!" and grabbed the assistant behind the counter. Holding her hostage at gunpoint, he forced her to empty the display cabinets and fill up the bag with diamonds. They then left, taking the assistant, Petra Einar, as hostage to dissuade anyone from following.
They then released her outside the store, fired a gun into the air, and left in a variety of vehicles, all of which went in different directions and often with the two robbers changing things between them. They were gone by the time the Police got there. Indeed, the Police were delayed by co-conspirators in the vicinity doing time-consuming things to delay them, such as making three-point-turns in lorries, backing up vans, and similar. The robbers had also had applied to themselves theatrical make-up to make themselves look like totally different people and thus fool CCTV and even close human observers, not to mention any automatic face-recognition software that Graffs may have had put in.
At this point, they totally vanished, and until a mobile phone was found wedged between the seats of one of their getaway cars, the Police were totally at a loss. A bulletin sent to all airports and docks turned up fruitless. However, by working on the mobile phone evidence, they were able to trace the whereabouts of the robbers. Soon enough, they were arrested, and in June 2010, at Woolwich Crown Court, they were convicted. The gunman, Aman Kassaye, was sent down for 23 years, and the other four, Craig Calderwood, Solomun Beyene, Thomas Thomas, and Clinton Mogg, were sent down for 16 years each. However, because of the way the British prison system works, release on licence, time off for good behaviour, and time already served on remand, expect to see them back on the streets from 2017 onwards.
The diamonds, incidentally, worth £40 million, have never been entirely found even though they were inscribed with specific identifying marks. Probably they've been shipped, according to the Metropolitan Police, to the Far East where someone will happily cut them up to eliminate said marks without asking questions and flog them on. Even if the revenue from this was only a fraction of the diamonds' market value, say, a quarter, that's still a healthy profit margin.
But anyhow. The big question was, how could a bunch of low-level drug pushers, ne'er do wells, and homeless odd job guys carry out such an audacious raid, especially considering their age, their complete lack of contacts within the illicit diamond-smuggling world, and of security measures? Where would they get the resources to carry this out? Granted, they could probably get a gun, but what about Savile Row suits, theatrical make-up, and an array of cars, vans, motorbikes, and similar?
The two actual robbers were Aman Kassaye and Craig Calderwood. Their three conspirators were Solomun Beyene, Thomas Thomas, and Clinton Mogg. None of them fit the profile of well organised international diamond thieves. Kassaye and Beyene were a pair of local small-time drug pushers on the Lisson Green estate up there, who had garnered some profit from their trade and were, according to folks in the area who knew them, the sort of people who thought that because they had a bit of cash from peddling dope to sloaneys at Imperial College in Kensington, they were King Shit and fancied themselves the stars of a 50 Cent video. They were previously known to Police, but for comparatively minor PWITS matters. The others were, well, drifters, and one of them was homeless. The Pink Panther gang they were not.
And the fact that they were more than willing to risk huge prison sentences for it all adds another layer of mystery. Drug dealers, especially at street level, tend to be cautious folk. They have to be in case their latest punter is some sort of undercover cop. Given that their income stream, though, relies upon them getting out there and flogging the stuff, and given the fluidity (due to rivalries between their suppliers in turn as they gain or lose market share, Police interfererence, etc.) of their suppliers, and the variability of the product supplied (one week it's China White, next week Golden Brown), every day they aren't out there peddling illicit chemicals to the people of London is effectively dead time. My firm has represented street level drug dealers, and the brass ring for them is not acquittal, but avoiding an immediate prison sentence (without getting a reputation as a grass, of course, or they may find themselves bereft of fingernails.) So why would these people take on such a raid, which not only would risk lots of prison time and the attendant loss of their patch to someone else, but also having to take time out from their full time criminal job in order to carry out the plan?
The only answer, to my mind, that makes sense, is that they were employed, if you will, by a "Mr Big" who put up the cash and resources towards the heist and said he would cut them into the profits, and that their cut would be waiting for them when they got out of prison. Indeed, if this is to be believed, the Mr Big put pressure on at least one of them to carry it out as a way for Aman Kassaye to pay off a drugs debt. And the Mr Big would have to have known and trusted Kassaye, Beyene, Calderwood, et al. to do it properly and not to fuck it up. The advantages for him are that he doesn't get his hands dirty and he remains anonymous. Which he probably will, to be fair.
It should also be mentioned that at trial, the robbers' counsel put up the suggestion that the robbery was, in fact, an insurance fraud by Graffs Diamonds - an inside job - as Graffs does have a lamentable history of getting robbed. Though then again, they make items of jewelry that probably cost more than the building the E2 servers are housed in, each, so of course, they're a sitting duck.
The Graffs job is currently second in the ranks of armed robbery in the UK. The Securitas robbery of 2008 is currently at the top of the tree, as it netted £53 million. This is second, at £40 million, but it's ahead of the Brinks Mat robbery, which was £28 million. If we are to adjust for inflation, though, it probably comes in third, as Brinks Mat then goes into the lead at £67.5 million. The Great Train Robbery of 1963 assumes fourth place at £39.6 million.
Incidentally, in the direbollockal 2012 film remake of "The Sweeney", with Ray Winstone and some greasy haired git called Plan B, the bad guys attempt to use theatrical make up as a disguise when robbing a private bank at one point, much like the Graffs types.