‘King of Thieves' film harks back to 1970s Baker Street bank break-in

Friday, 14th September 2018 — By The Xtra Diary

07-Michael Caine et al

King Of Thieves: Paul Whitehouse, Ray Winstone, Michael Caine, Jim Broadbent & Tom Courtenay


The film King Of Thieves, out this week, tells the story of the ageing gang of burglars who targeted a Hatton Garden safe deposit vault.

It stars Michael Caine as lead villain Brian Reader, and reminded Diary of a job the infamous Mr Reader was connected to in Baker Street, back in 1971.

A gang tunnelled under a Baker Street vault in 1971

It concerned the digging of a tunnel from the basement of a leather bag shop into the vault of the Baker Street branch of Lloyds Bank, about 50 metres down the road.

The story is retold in the book One Last Job, by journalists Tom Pettifor and Nick Sommerlad, which is a biography of Reader.

Pettifor and Sommerlad explain that Reader was one of a gang who dug the tunnel and got into the vault, clearing out safe deposit boxes.

But the perpetrators did not know that during the weekend they were scraping away at the reinforced concrete floor, police officers from Marylebone were frantically searching for them, after an amateur radio ham had accidentally listened in to the gangs two-way radio chat with their look-out sentry.

And there was more to the job than the crooks’ derring-do to get hold of some serious swag, and the Met’s rather Keystone Cops approach to catching them red- handed. As the book states, a number of myths had emerged over the years around the Baker Street job.

Brian Reader, above, and, right, scene of the ‘Sherlock Holmes bank raid’ – as reported and reproduced in One Last Job

One story that has emerged was there was a police cover-up, involving a gagging order on the press reporting what had been found.

There was a rumour that civil rights activist Michael X – the English version of Malcolm – had kept incriminating photographs of Princess Margaret having fun with her lover, Roddy Llewellyn, in the Caribbean and M15 had organised the break-in to make sure they never saw the light of day. Another myth put forward was the gang wrote on the wall of the vault “let’s see how Sherlock Holmes solves this one,” which is sadly untrue.

What the book does suggest is that Reader found, in one box, a stash of child pornography and that the pictures belonged to a prominent Conservative politician and cabinet minister. “The disgusted gang members made sure to leave the pictures strewn around the floor of the vault where police were bound to find them,” the journalists write. “The fact these horrific snaps stayed secret was taken by them as proof the police were bent.”

The official files surrounding this case are in the National Archives, and are not due to be released for another 75- odd years.

However, some documents have emerged and show the police did try to limit the reporting at the time – because they did not want the villains to know they had been listening in to their radio chit-chat, yet still couldn’t pinpoint where exactly they were working.

Diary hopes that whoever writes this column in 2093 skims through back issues, finds this article, and heads to the archives to unravel the mystery of the Baker Street break in…

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