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Today in history… biggest robbery in British criminal history

12:00am & Lifestyle

The biggest cash robbery in British history took place in the early hours of February 22nd, 2006, when thieves made off with more than £53m. in banknotes from a Securitas depot in Tonbridge, Kent.

At least six men were thought to have been involved in the well-planned robbery, several of them armed with shotguns and pistols including a machine pistol. It began around 6-30pm the previous evening when the manager of the Securitas depot, Colin Dixon, was pulled over by an unmarked police car with blue lights flashing behind its front grill.

The car was a fake and when Mr Dixon accompanied a man dressed as a police officer back to the bogus vehicle he was handcuffed and taken to a remote farm. At the same time, two other gang members went to Mr Dixon’s home posing as police officers and, after tricking their way inside, took his wife and eight-year-old son hostage. They were also taken to the farm, where Mr Dixon was told at gunpoint that if he didn’t co-operate with the gang, they would all be in danger.

At around 1am they were all taken in a plain white van to the depot, where Mr Dixon was forced to help the gang evade the various security systems. Once inside, the armed men threatened and tied up 14 staff members, locking them inside money cages. They then loaded the £53m. into a truck and, at about 2-45am, drove away from the depot.

Despite threats of violence, no-one was injured in the robbery. Eventually one of the staff members, who had a key to the cage she was locked in, was able to free herself and others, raising the alarm about half-an-hour after the robbers had left. Police arriving at the scene found several staff members, plus Mr Dixon and his family, still bound, but unhurt.

Much of the stolen money belonged to the Bank of England and Securitas reimbursed £25m. later that same day, with a promise to make up any additional loss. Securitas and their insurers also offered a £2m. reward for information leading to the capture of the gang.

The following day, February 23rd, three people were arrested, including a woman who tried to deposit £6,000 at a building society, with the bundle of £50 notes bound by Securitas Tonbridge tape. It later emerged she had legitimately withdrawn the cash from another bank account and was only transferring it. After questioning, all three were released without charge.

Police soon located several vehicles used in the robbery, including two cars modified to resemble unmarked police cars. Acting on information from a member of the public, they also found a white Ford Transit van parked on a hotel car park. Inside were guns, balaclavas, body armour and £1.3m. of the stolen cash. As forensic teams pored over the recovered vehicles, more arrests followed. At least 36 people would eventually be arrested as part of the investigation, although many were released without charge.

On February 28th police found the 7.5-ton lorry used to move the stolen money and also converged on the farm where Mr Dixon and his family had been held, later arresting the local car dealer who owned the property. Some of the people arrested were now being charged with conspiracy to rob Securitas and remanded in custody awaiting trial. More of the stolen cash was recovered in a raid on an industrial depot in London.

By March 9th police had recovered £19.7m. through various raids and searches. It was thought that much of the recovered cash had been deliberately abandoned by the gang because it was in new and traceable banknotes, while the rest was in used, untraceable currency. The police were also amassing a mountain of information and leads, and in late June, in a joint operation with Moroccan police, four men were arrested in the Moroccan capital, Rabat.

It was June of 2007 – a full 16 months after the robbery – before a trial began at the Old Bailey. It lasted seven months and ended with the conviction of five men – Stuart Royle, Jetmir Bucpapa, Roger Coutts, Lea Rusha and Emir Hysenaj. The first four were each handed life sentences with an order that they serve a minimum of 15 years, while the fifth, Hysenaj, was sentenced to 20 years with an order that he serve a minimum of 10.

Charges against six others were dropped, while three more defendants, including the owner of the farm where some of the stolen cash was found, were acquitted. In 2010 one of the men arrested in Morocco, Lee Murray, was jailed in that country for 25 years for his part in the robbery. However, at least one other serious suspect in both the kidnapping and robbery has never been found and around £32m. of the stolen money is also still missing.

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