Who was John Palmer? Brink’s-Mat robbery links, death, ‘Goldfinger’ nickname explained - who killed him

John Palmer was known as Goldfinger for his role in the infamous Brink’s-Mat robbery featured in BBC drama The Gold

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John Palmer was one of several career criminals involved in the 1983 Brink’s-Mat robbery that saw 6,000 gold bars stolen from a warehouse in Heathrow. At the time the biggest robbery in the world, and still the biggest UK heist, much of the looted gold is still unaccounted for, thanks in part to the work of Palmer.

BBC drama The Gold, which revisits the robbery, features Palmer’s character as well as other real figures involved in the crime including Kenneth Noye, who killed a police officer who suspected his involvement.

In the decades after the robbery, the idea of a ‘curse of the Brink’s-Mat millions’ gained credence as several of those involved with the gold theft were shot dead. John Palmer was the latest victim of the ‘curse’.

Who was John Palmer?

John Palmer was an English gangster who amassed a fortune through fraud, money laundering, racketeering and involvement in some legitimate businesses. He was at one time estimated to be the wealthiest criminal in the UK, and had more cash than even the Queen.

Palmer was born in Warwickshire in 1950 - he left school aged 15 and first found himself on the wrong side of the law in 1980 when he received a six-month suspended sentence for providing false references to obtain credit.

Tom Cullen plays John Palmer in The GoldTom Cullen plays John Palmer in The Gold
Tom Cullen plays John Palmer in The Gold

He was arrested in 1985, two years after the Brink’s-Mat robbery, for their involvement in melting down the stolen gold. Roughly £26 million was stolen - most of it in gold bullion - was stolen in the 1983 heist at the Brink’s-Mat warehouse.

£10 million of the gold was never recovered and it is believed that Palmer melted down the bullion in his shed, before putting it back into circulation where it became indistinguishable from legitimate gold. Because of his involvement with the Brink’s-Mat bullion, Palmer gained the nickname ‘Goldfinger’.

Palmer had at first evaded arrest by fleeing to Tenerife and then attempting to moved to Brazil but was refused entry and deported back to the UK where he was forced to face trial. At his trial Palmer admitted to melting down the gold but claimed that he didn’t know the bullion was stolen - he was acquitted in 1987.

John Palmer was shot dead in 2015John Palmer was shot dead in 2015
John Palmer was shot dead in 2015

Who plays John Palmer in The Gold?

BBC drama series The Gold follows the Brink’s-Mat robbery and its aftermath as those involved attempt to stay out of prison. Palmer is played by Welsh actor Tom Cullen.

Cullen is known for playing Landry in the historical drama series Knightfall, Mr. Edwards in AppleTV sci-fi drama Invasion, Anthony Gillingham in period drama Downton Abbey, and Thomas Seymour in historical biopic series Becoming Elizabeth.

How did John Palmer die?

Palmer was murdered in June 2015 at his home in Essex - he died from gunshot wounds to the chest and had been shot six times. He was 64 years old.

Following his death it was revealed that Palmer had been under electronic surveillance for the last 16 years of his life. Palmer’s killer was claimed to have been a hitman working on the orders of the Russian mafia - however, no one has ever been sentenced for the killing.

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