Tuesday, 26th February, 2002

The Great Millennium Dome Diamond Heist That Never Was

The media have had a field day with the Millennium Dome alleged attempted heist of the magnificent 777-carat showpiece diamond, and 11 other rare diamonds valued at 200 million and owned by De Beers, the world 's biggest diamond merchants.

Career policeman Detective Chief Superintendent Jon Shatford, the head of the Flying Squad, bathed in the spotlight glory of the TV cameras and the cameras of the newspaper photographers, as he took pains to tell the world how brilliant was his 'plan' of 'Operation Magician' that led to the capture of "a ruthless, armed gang".

Vivid stories of the plot being hatched on the Costa del Sol by members of the diamond 'gang' and the Russian 'Mafia', who were said to have paid up-front money for the diamonds, (can you believe that?) appeared in the media, and credit given that the greatest robbery of all time was only foiled only by the 'brilliant' undercover operation 'masterminded' by Shatford of The Yard, (or taking the cue from a cartoon in the Daily Express should that be Shatford of the Metre, now that only the metric system is legal?), and his 'genius' designed 'Operation Magician'.

'Operation Magician' like all magical tricks was an illusion

WHEN 200 MILLION IS ONLY WORTH 20,000

My personal view is that the only part I believe of the lurid story disseminated by 'Shatford of the Metre' is that there was an attempt to rob The Dome of some pretty sparkling stones that were made to look like diamonds.

Diamonds worth 200 million? Fakes that cost about 20,000 would be much nearer the truth.

It was said on TV that the police switched the diamonds for the fakes in an elaborate plan involving two security vans as decoys while armed Flying Squad transported the diamonds back to the De Beers vault.

This means that there was no diamond heist because the 'real diamonds' worth 200 million were miles away in a different place to The Dome when the raid took place.

It also means that visitors to The Dome who gazed in awe at 'diamonds' advertised as being worth 200 million were in fact looking at fakes. Top class imitations but nevertheless fakes that no pawnbroker would accept.

Does this mean that the police, De Beers and The Dome operators conspired to defraud the public by describing zircons, as fake diamonds are known, as real diamonds with a value estimated at 200 million when their real value is probably 1% of 1% of that amount? This is a question that is best answered by a qualified lawyer.

No one is able to have the cake and eat it. If you accept money under false pretences, in this situation money to view valuable diamonds when actually on display are zircon fakes, then that Is allegedly fraud irrespective of the reason, good or bad, for committing the alleged crime.

If a charge of conspiracy to defraud was laid against either, or all, the police, De Beers and The Dome then this could in effect mean a re-run of the robbery trial.

WHO'S KIDDING WHOM?

My personal view is that I do not for one moment believe that 200 million worth of diamonds were at any time left unguarded night after night in a plastic tent albeit a very expensive one.

It stretches the imagination beyond even the capabilities of Harry Potter, of Harry Potter and The Sorcerer's Stone fame, to believe that the only safeguard of such enormously valuable diamonds would be to encase them behind protective glass that a Hilti drill that embeds nails into hard surfaces, and a sledgehammer were able to smash open without a deafening alarm system sounding off, and other protective sophisticated security devices being immediately activated.

To protect the De Beer's fabulous investment it is highly likely that if the real diamonds were ever put on public display at The Dome then a mandatory insurance policy to protect the 200 million investment of DeBeers, may well have insisted that armed police had to be on duty to guard the diamonds 24-hours a day, a refined direct alarm system be installed that connected directly to Scotland Yard and the local police station, CCTV cameras with an operator viewing them 24-hours a day, etc., etc.

As a precaution against shoplifters if shops and supermarkets have to install CCTV cameras then surely close circuit cameras with at least one operator had to be installed to protect goods said to be worth 200 million.

With these factors missing is it possible to believe that if the real diamonds were on public display, would they be so unguarded night and day? I think not!

Top class fake diamonds that are made to replicate very rare diamonds are not made overnight. The high-class counterfeit diamonds that the robbers attempted to steal would have taken time to accurately counterfeit. This, therefore, begs the question were the real diamonds ever on display in The Dome?

That which is certain had I had visited The Dome for the sole purpose of seeing the magnificent 'diamonds' I would write and ask The Dome company for an explanation, and. if necessary, for the return of my money.

ENTRAPMENT?

In a statement made by the alleged 'ringleader' of the plot to rob The Dome of its 'diamonds' it was reported that he claimed that it was entrapment by his girlfriend's brother-in-law, a policeman whose duty was to patrol the area surrounding The Dome.

He accused the brother-in-law of suggesting the robbery. The brother-in-law denied the accusation.

It was alleged that the so-called 'ringleader' of the robbers tried to corrupt police constable Michael Waring, the brother-in-law of his girlfriend, into setting up a security firm to provide the 'ringleader' with inside knowledge.

PC Waring passed this information to Scotland Yard.

Nevertheless, despite his vehement protestations of innocence of being part of any entrapment plot I don't believe the policeman brother-in-law will receive any more future invitations to any parties at the 500,000 house shared by the 'ringleader' and his girlfriend.

I do not accept that the police intelligence operation was as wonderful as 'Shatford of the Metre' claimed. My view, and I am obliged to point out that it is only my opinion, is that it was entrapment. Did the policeman brother-in-law acting on orders instigate it?

That is a question you might want to answer.

10-2 JURY VERDICT AFTER A WEEK OF DELIBERATION

'Operation Magician' involved upwards of 200 police personnel over a period of nine months, and culminated in a three months jury trial, and after deliberating for a week, the jury of seven women and five men convicted four of the men of conspiracy to rob with violence, and the fifth of conspiracy to steal. A sixth accused died while on remand.

The total cost of 'Operation Magician' must have been enormous - and yet the police are constantly complaining of lack of officers and funds to properly police the streets, and thereby make them safe for people. They need to be told that you are only able to spend the money once. How wisely they spend the money depends upon their competence.

The jury reached their verdicts by a majority of 10 to two, a few hours after Judge Michael Coombe told them that he would accept a majority decision.

Why did Judge Combes decide after a week to accept a majority verdict? Why not three days, why not ten or any other number of days?

Does it mean that the number of dissenters on the jury was more than two before the end of a week? And only when the essential majority of ten had finally agreed to find the accused guilty did His Honour Judge Coombe accept a majority verdict?

Whatever the answer to that question might be, the fact that two of the jury refused to return a guilty verdict is significant after such a lengthy deliberation. It has to indicate doubt.

The accused persons were willing to plead guilty to conspiracy to steal, but refused to admit to a charge that added the words 'with violence'. Had their plea of guilty been accepted the very heavy court costs would have been avoided, and justice served.

MEDIA FICTION

According to media fiction the plot to rob The Dome of the 'diamonds' was first suggested 'around a table in a dimly lit room above a bar of a public house'.

Yes, that is exactly as it appeared in a quality newspaper.

The articles goes on, "Around the table sat three men who would be known as the 'Dome Diamond Geezers'.

If jail sentences totalling 71 years were not involved it would be laughable.

The alleged ringleader is said to be worth a fortune, and lives in 500,000 house.

It has been said that his property portfolio includes an apartment in Canary Wharf, London, and houses and apartments in Antigua and Spain.

He wore expensive designer clothes. Most of his investments were in holding companies on Jersey and the Isle of Man.

Money that was not invested was spent on a good lifestyle. His home was the scene of many grand parties, and he and another defendant spent 25,000 to fly by Concorde to New York for a millennium night party.

If all this is true, or partly true, do you really believe that despite having the use of a luxury home, his style would be to use a dimly lit room, (couldn't the publican afford 100 watt bulbs?), above a bar in the Old Kent Road to discuss the biggest robbery of all time?

If you are willing to believe that they used a 'dimly lit room' then, perhaps, you also believe he bought a 500,000 house merely to have parties!

THE SPIN OF OPERATION MAGICIAN

It is my personal belief that an impartial examination of 'Operation Magician' will expose it as having more spin than substance.

Sadly the famous Ealing Studios are not going to make a film of the 'brilliant' 'Operation Magician', despite the enormous success of the magical movies Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, and Lord of the Rings.

The main reason is that those superb comedy actors of yesteryear Alastair Sim, Sir Alec Guinness, Peter Sellers are not available for the lead roles, and Basil Fawlty has the decorators in at Fawlty Towers, and is too busy.

Judge Michael Coombe who presided over The Dome zircon robbery said when passing sentence: "Their wicked and professional raid in November 2000 was foiled by the dedication of police, who were lying in wait to arrest them.

"This was a very well-planned and premeditated attempt to rob De Beers of what would have been the most gigantic sum in English or any other legal history.

"Whether there were inside men or not, this was a wicked plan, a professional plan and one which was carried out with the most minute attention to detail. Mercifully, the police were on to you."

Rejecting the claim that PC Michael Waring had helped to plan the raid, the judge said: "It was quite apparent he played no part in it whatever."

One of the robbers a man of no previous convictions was told by the Judge, "You knew the risks you were taking."

THE DANGEROUS RISK TAKEN BY THE JUDGE

A wide-ranging question is I wonder if the Judge realised the dangerous risk he was taking by imposing such heavy sentences?

The men involved in this robbery obviously took pains to be seen that they did not want people hurt. They deliberately refused to carry any accepted weapons of violence because, quite obviously, they wanted it to be a robbery without violence, and it proved to be just that even when the police arrested them they offered no resistance.

The robbers obviously watch TV and read newspapers, and as a precaution they decided that should they become involved with an armed police intervention squad they would need to wear bullet-proof vests.

None wanted to join the list of people who have died from a policeman's bullet.

The weapons of the robbers were some ammonia and smoke bombs; hardly the weapons of a 'ruthless' gang, as they were described by spin-doctor Chief Superintendent Shatford.

They carried no guns, not even one cosh or any other weapon designed for violence, yet His Honour Judge Coombe in his lack of wisdom gave one of the accused 18 years in jail, another, a first time offender, 15 years, and the driver of the getaway speed boat, whose only previous 'crime' was not paying his TV licence, a five years sentence.

This means that two virtually first time offenders could serve between them 20 years in prison for stealing goods worth 20,000. Is that justice?

The terms of imprisonment imposed by Judge Coombe then pose the important question: What would his sentences have been had a gun, or guns, been carried by the robbers?

In my view the Judge showed a complete lack of foresight. Had he been a wise Judge he would have made a comment that would have received wide publicity that because the robbers deliberately did not carry lethal weapons the sentences were in keeping with this, and then given the robbers prison sentences justifiable for the robbery of 20,000 worth of fake goods.

Surely the Judge was aware that he was not telling the whole truth when he said, ""This was a very well-planned and premeditated attempt to rob De Beers of what would have been the most gigantic sum in English or any other legal history?"

Of that which he must have been fully aware was had the robbery succeeded the value of the stolen goods would not have been remotely, "The most gigantic sum in legal history."

SCHOOLCHILDREN WERE AT RISK

Judge Coombe went on to praise Detective Chief Superintendent Jon Shatford, who led the police operation, for the "extraordinary care" with which the police surveillance was carried out, adding that the crime would have succeeded without the flying squad's intervention.

This was yet another foolish statement by a Judge you would expect to know better. TV interviews exposed the fact that schoolchildren were in The Dome when armed police swooped, and had the robbers resisted arrest shots may have been fired, and children, and/or adults hurt, maybe killed.

No doubt the robbers were fully aware of this therefore did they take the special precaution of not taking with them weapons of violence so that there would be no temptation to use them because of their fear that children, and innocent people could be hurt, or worse, killed?

Chief Superintendent Shatford admitted on TV that there was a risk to people in The Dome at the time the police swooped.

At least one parent interviewed on TV was severely critical of placing children in such danger. What will he now say when he is told that the danger that children, and adults, were placed in was to protect fake goods? If people about to be involved in a future robbery take heed of the 18-year sentence, and the 15-year sentence for a first time offender, passed by Judge Coombe on robbers that deliberately went unarmed to ensure that there would be no violence, and decide to take guns with them; then any disastrous outcome may well be due to the ignorance of Judge Coombe.

In my view Judge Coombe failed to consider the long-term effect his sentences could have on the safety of general public in the future.

He clearly indicated to me that he does not have the quality of wisdom that a Judge like Lord Chief Justice Woolf has, or that of Mr Justice Bean who clearly showed to me by his attitude and decision that he was a Judge to respect, and a wise man.

The Appeal Court would serve the public well to consider the wider implications of the unjust sentences imposed by Judge Michael Coombe on the Millennium Dome Robbers of fake diamonds, and act to correct the serious lack of judgement of Judge Coombe.

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