British police thwarted what would have been the largest jewelry robbery in history $500 million in diamonds by allowing the robbers to enter the vault where the gems were displayed in London's Millennium Dome and then capturing them. The arrests occurred about 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, just before the building opened to the public.
The 203-ct. flawless pear-shaped Millennium Star diamond is the centerpiece of a display sponsored by De Beers. The display includes 11 other rare diamonds, including the 27.64-ct. blue Heart of Eternity diamond.
In a scene right out of the James Bond movie "The World is Not Enough," the robbers planned to make their getaway via a speedboat on the nearby Thames River. But police, acting on a tip given several weeks ago, had prepared for the theft and had officers stationed around the Millennium Dome dressed as members of the cleaning staff carrying weapons in their refuse bags.
The thieves were allowed to penetrate a fence around the perimeter of the Dome using heavy earth-moving equipment, and then they smashed their way into the building and headed for the Money Zone, the area where the collection was housed. "When they entered the vault, they imprisoned themselves," says Detective Superintendent Jon Shatford. "Had we arrested them beforehand, we would have increased the threat to the public."
Four people were arrested in the building, two were picked up on the speedboat and as many as five others were taken into custody in a London home. More than 100 officers were involved in the operation.
According to British press reports, De Beers replaced the diamonds with replicas the day before. A spokesperson for De Beers said the diamonds will be replaced after police have granted security clearance.
- by Jack Heeger