In the autumn of 2003, Jeff Edwards, the Daily Mirror’s chief crime correspondent was told by a detective at an informal gathering that they had a ‘really fantastic’job on the stocks. After approaching several senior friends at New Scotland Yard, Edwards was allowed to be with an undercover squad lying in wait for a gang of robbers to strike at Heathrow.
But every planned ambush ended in a ‘stand down’when the robbers changed their minds for various and complex reasons and didn’t go ahead with the job. This happened on 13 occasions between October 2003 and February 2004.
The gang finally wrong-footed the Yard and got away with about £2m in cash, but having proven that he was trustworthy and had ‘played the game”, Edwards was promised he would ‘get the next big one”.
After further disappointments he received a late call in late May 2004, telling him of a meeting at 5am the next day…
With photographer Roger Allen we were driven in an unmarked Flying Squad car to a location near Heathrow, writes Jeff Edwards.
We were not even told what the robbers’actual target was, only that two planes were coming in, one loaded with gold bullion, the other with several tonnes of sterling, US dollars and euros.
The gang were planning to seize the estimated £200m when it was delivered by truck to a high-security warehouse.
By 10am both planes had disgorged their cargo but there was no sign of the robbers. I asked the officer in charge of the job when this airport job might come back on line. He explained there wouldn’t be another big shipment for two weeks. I thought for a moment and said: ‘We’ve stuck with this for eight months, another two weeks won’t kill us.”
At that precise moment one of his phones bleeped and a voice said: ‘They’re here!”
We sped the half mile to the premises of the Swissport bonded warehouse and swept into the truck yard.
A stolen van, its engine racing and its tyres shot out by police bullets still smoking, was jammed in one of the roller shutters.
The officer in charge jumped out of the car and told us ‘Wait there!’He dived inside the warehouse and emerged 60 seconds later with a huge grin and said: ‘Step this way chaps, we’ve got them all laid out like ham salads!”
And there were six masked men, all lying face down with police guns pressed to their heads and bullion boxes spread around.
Roger started snapping. One of the robbers had been propped against a pallet loaded with gold bullion – about £10m worth. As Roger continued snapping the man was unmasked. He had this extraordinary lopsided, weary smile of resignation on his face. It was worthy of one of those Hamlet cigar ads. An absolute one-off.
Many people said later it was a posed picture, but it was not. It was exactly as things happened.
We got a fantastic scoop, possibly the best I have ever had, and Roger won Photographer of the Year in the British Press Awards for the photograph.
I got that story because I worked damned hard on it. I was patient and kept the faith with my contacts. To keep the pressure off and ensure security, I did not even tell my news desk what I was up to except in the most vague terms. I thank them for trusting me.