At its time, the 1983 Brink’s-Mat robbery was the biggest British heist of its kind - roughlt £26 million worth of gold, diamonds and cash was stolen (worth more than £100 million today). To add further drama, the audacious crime turned out to be an inside job.
But the real mystery, and one which is still left mostly unanswered, is what happened to all of that looted gold. The story of the robbery from its inception to the investigation into those who carried it out, is told in the gripping BBC One drama The Gold, which airs weekly.
Ironically, Brink’s-Mat, the target of the robbery, is a security company, and it was one of their very own security guards that enabled the gangsters to loot the Brink’s-Mat warehouse at Heathrow Airport. Six armed thieves tied up other guards and planned to steal any cash they found at the site, hoping for a deceny payday.
In the event, the gang got much more than they bargained for when they learned that the warehouse was home to millions of pounds worth of gold bullion and diamonds. They stole as much as they could get their hands on.
The thieves’ luck eventually turned, as most of those involved in the robbery were caught and sent to prison - and some wound up dead under suspicious circumstances, leading to suggestoins that the ill-gotten gold was cursed.
Despite the fact that those involved were brought to justice, roughly £10 million of the gold (worth £43 million today) is still unaccounted for, four decades after the heist.
What happened to the Brink’s-Mat robbers?
Anthony Black, the security guard who gave the robbers access to the warehouse, was sentenced to six years in prison for his part in the heist.
Micky McAvoy was sentenced to 25 years imprisonment for armed robbery in 1984. He was also held responsible for repaying the entire amount stolen - he was released from prison in 2000 and died this January, aged 71.
Kenneth Noye was found guilty of conspiracy to handle the stolen goods - he was fined £500,000, with an additional £200,000 in costs, and sentenced to 14 years in prison in 1986. He was released after serving half his sentence. This wasn’t the end of Noye’s life of crime - in 1996 he killed a man in a road rage incident in Spain - he was extradited to the UK and given a life sentence for the killing in 2000. He was released on parole in 2019.
George Francis, who is believed to have become involved with the robbers after the heist, laundering hundreds of thousands of pounds for them, was shot dead whilst getting out of his car in south London in 2003, aged 63 - McAvoy was a suspect in the killing though his guilt was never proven.
Michael Relton, a solicitor, was sentenced to 12 years in prison for his part in laundering the money.
Kathleen McAvoy, Micky’s wife, was charged with handling stolen money and given an 18 month suspended sentence - she was also ordered to hand over £250,000 which had been found at a farmhouse in Kent.
Brian Reader was given an eight year prison sentence for conspiracy to handle stolen goods. He was later involved in the Hatton Garden raid in 2015 which was the subject of the 2017 film The Hatton Garden Job, where Reader was played by Larry Lamb, and the 2018 movie King of Thieves where he was played by Michael Caine.
In 1992, a further four people who had helped to launder the gold - Gordon John Parry, Brian Perry, Patrick Clark, and Jean Savage - were sentenced to between five and 10 years in prison.
What happened to the Brinks-Mat gold?
Three tonnes of gold bullion (roughly 6,000 bars) was stolen in the 1983 heist - most of it has not been recovered. By 1996 it was believed that half of the stolen gold which had since been melted down, recast, and laundered, had been recirculated into the legitimate gold market.
Some believe that any piece of gold jewellery bought in the UK after 1983 likely contains Brink-Mat’s gold. A gold trail was also turned up in the Panama Papers, a cache of more than 11 million financial documents leaked in 2016. The papers showed that Gordon Parry laundered money from the robbery through offshore accounts.