This is organised crime at its top level
Assistant Chief Constable Adrian Leppard
The Great Tonbridge Robbery took place in the early hours of Wednesday the 22nd February 2006 when a gang succeeded in gaining access to the Securitas depot at Vale Road, Tonbridge in Kent and made their escape with a total of £53,116,760 in cash and are thus responsible for the biggest cash robbery in British history.
The Securitas depot at Tonbridge is one of a number of sites in the United Kingdom which store, check and recirculate bank notes on behalf of the Bank of England. The demand for cash is subject to seasonal fluctuations - it is at its highest during Christmas and the New Year sales, but slumps immediately thereafter. February is therefore the time of year at which the highest quantity of cash is taken out of circulation and held at such sites, and the perfect time to stage such a raid. As one of the functions of such cash depots is to sift through piles of used bank notes and decide which ones are no longer fit for circulation, they are far more attractive target than a traditonal bank, as they contain large quantities of used notes which are virtually untraceable.
If this was a Hollywood movie one might expect a rogue computer expert, lasers, and impeccable timing, all imbedded in a complicated but ingenious plan that cleverly circumvents an equally complicated but ingenious set of security measures. In reality no self-respecting bank robber goes to that much trouble when violence is a much simpler solution. The technique employed in this case is what is known to police as 'tiger kidnapping' because of the way which the perpetrators stalk their targets prior to seizing them. This involves identifying who it is that can get you in, keeping them under surveillance until you know their routine and which buttons to press, then pointing a gun at their head and asking nicely. (Or not so nicely, according to taste.)
In the case of the Great Tonbridge Robbery, on the evening of the 21st February two of the gang disguised themselves as policemen and flagged down Colin Dixon, the manager of the Tonbridge depot on his way home. Stopped on the A249 just outside the Three Squirrels pub at Stockbury he was persuaded to leave his car and get into a unmarked Volvo with a blue flashing light. At around the same time that evening another part of the gang, similarly disguised as policemen, called at Mr Dixon's home at Hadleigh Gardens in Herne Bay. By using the story that there had been an accident, they persuaded his wife and Lynn Dixon their young son Craig to leave their home. They were then taken in a red van to a remote farm building believed to have been at Staplehurst in west Kent.
Once captured by the gang Dixon was warned that if he failed to co-operate his wife and son would be shot dead. Just to make sure that he understood they weren't bluffing they held a mobile phone to his ear so he could hear the screams of his wife and son.
Around 1.15 am Colin Dixon was taken to the Tonbridge depot where he helped six men, now masked and armed with handguns, to gain access to the facility, where they soon threatened and tied up the other fourteen staff on duty that night. The gang then spent the next hour bagging and loading cash into a white Renault 7.5 tonne lorry. At around 2.15 am they drove off, considerably richer than they had been the previous day, leaving the staff locked inside the cages normally used to transport the cash. Around an hour later one member of staff managed to break free and sound the alarm, by which time the gang were no where to be found.
The Nissan Almera driven by Colin Dixon has since been found parked at the Cock Horse pub at Detling near Maidstone, whilst the red van turned up in another pub car park in the Maidstone district. Fourteen cages used to by the gang were found dumped in a field at Detling. The police have also found a Ford Transit van parked at the Ashford International Hotel, (close to the Channel Tunnel terminal and thus leading to speculation that the gang may have already fled the country by Eurostar.) The Transit contained a number of items believed to have been used in the heist including guns, balaclavas, flak jackets together with £1.3m in cash. Although the police have hailed the discovery of the van as a breakthrough, others have noted that the gang's sensible decision to leave behind £1.3m in new and therefore very traceable bank notes, indicates an ability to resist temptation that may well mean they are harder to catch than the average bank robber.
There police have made a mumber of arrests since the raid, including a forty-one year old woman who was arrested whilst trying to open a building society account at Bromley in Kent with £6,000 in cash, all bound up in wrappers marked 'Tonbridge'. However the woman in question turned out to be Dawn Bailey, a Salvation Army nurse who had drawn the money out of another bank account. She has since said that she will sue police for "the most distressing experience of my life". The police also arrested Michelle Hogg and Michael Demetris at Forest Hill, South London, on Thursday 23rd February on suspicion of conspiracy to commit robbery. They appear to be make-up artists who specialise in false wigs and beards. Another two men were arrested in the Maidstone area on Saturday 25th February on suspicion of conspiracy to commit robbery. None of the above appear to have been involved in the raid and all have been released on police bail.
A further six people have since been arrested, five of whom are still being questioned, including the pair that were arrested at Tankerton near Whitstable on Sunday 26th February when the police were reported to have shot out the tyres of a car.
The police remain confident that they will catch those responsible.
There is a £2m reward on offer to anyone willing to turn supergrass and name names. Assistant Chief Constable Adrian Leppard has promised to any would be informant that "We will look after you". Such a guarantee of safety may well be neccessary given the pedigree of some of the usual suspects mentioned with regard to the raid. These include such notable south London villains as, 'Mister R' ("Cross him and you wind up dead in a Kent ditch"), the infamous 'A Team' ("said to have once dropped an informant into a vat of acid") as well 'The Grandfather' ("totally immoral and capable of any level of violence").
The Great Tonbridge Robbery is now the biggest *cash* robbery in British history, but not the biggest robbery. That accolade belongs to the individual who, on the 2nd May 1990, mugged a courier from Sheppard's money brokers who had in his possession 300 bearer bonds to the value of £292 million.
- Ben Macintyre and Stewart Tendler, The Great Tonbridge Robbery, The Times February 25, 2006
- Jamie Doward, Tony Thompson and Lucy Rock, Was this the perfect heist?
The Observer Sunday February 26, 2006
- Ian Cobain and Larry Elliott, The meticulously planned operation behind Britain's biggest cash robbery, The Guardian Thursday February 23, 2006
- Guns found in £50m robbery van, BBC News, Sunday, 26 February 2006
- Paul Lashmar, The Tonbridge heist The Independent, 26 February 2006
- Geneviève Roberts, Police reveal robbers took £53m from security depot The Independent 28 February 2006