Britain’s Biggest Ever Robbery

It was confirmed tonight that at £53 116 760, last week’s Kent robbery was the biggest ever in the UK. This made me wonder how we rank in the world league table of robberies. What was the biggest ever robbery in the U.S.? What about Ireland? Were these others similar schemes, or more complicated? This sort of thing is a staple of Hollywood (and British) films, but how many of them sound like film plots?

Iraq Central Bank, March 2003

Iraq Central Bank – theft of $900 million in U.S. bills and 82 million euros during the U.S.-led invasion. This seems to be considered the largest bank heist in history, and took place over several days. Although reports are a little hazy, this appears to have been Saddam Hussein’s family claiming money from their “personal piggy-bank”. Some reports indicate that Saddam’s son Qusay directed the robbery, which involved little more than men arriving with a note from Saddam and then loading the cash into vans. Much of the money was later recovered from Saddam’s palaces.

Knightsbridge Safe Deposit Centre, London, 1987

Two men asked to hire a Safe Deposit box, and once inside the vault, they produced guns and overpowered the manager and other guards. They then displayed a sign telling the public that the vault was closed before letting in other accomplices. They broke open safe deposit boxes and left with an estimated £40 million. Several people were arrested after fingerprints were found on one of the deposit box doors and matched to an Italian who was also wanted in connection with other armed robberies.

Banco Central, Forzaleza, Brazil, August 2005

The robbery of 164 million reals (£38.6 million) from a Central Bank vault. The robbers spent 3 months digging a 260 feet tunnel from a house they had rented near the bank. One weekend, they burst from the tunnel into the vault and took the cash away. The aftermath of this incident is continuing – several people have been arrested and various people suspected of the robbery or related to the suspects have since been abducted or killed, presumably by people who know that have enough money to pay large ransoms.

The Northern Bank Robbery, December 2004

Famously Ireland’s biggest ever robbery was the theft of £26.5 million from the Northern Bank in Belfast in which the IRA were implicated. This robbery, like the Tonbridge incident, involved the families of bank employees being held hostage in order that the robbers could be given access to the vault.

It’s striking how many of these stories resemble film plots – I’m sure that a film of the Brazilian robbery is in the works as we speak. But few of these have Hollywood happy endings – arrest, kidnap, death. It’s not an easy life for a bank robber, it would seem.

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