Scotland Yard detectives hunting the gang behind Britain’s biggest-ever heist arrested seven men on Tuesday.
The alleged thieves broke into 72 safe deposit boxes in London’s Hatton Garden jewelry district over Easter weekend, escaping with an estimated $300 million worth of gems and cash.
Initially, responsibility for the heist was focused on Eastern Europe’s notorious Pink Panthers, who’ve pulled off robberies around the world, but Tuesday’s arrests occurred much closer to the scene of the crime.
Twelve addresses in London and Kent were raided by up to 200 police officers on Tuesday morning.
Seven men, whose ages range from 48 to 75, were taken into custody and were being questioned Tuesday morning at a London police station. Police recovered a number of “high-value items,” Detective Superintendent Craig Turner, head of Scotland Yard’s Flying Squad, said.
Turner added that the investigation had been “complex and exceptional” and that police officers would be taking steps “to restore this property back to its rightful owners.”
In a statement, Scotland Yard added: “A number of large bags containing significant amounts of high-value property have been recovered from one address. Officers are confident these are items stolen during the burglary.”
“All seven men have been taken to a London police station,” the statement continues. “Searches at the addresses are ongoing.”
The Hatton Garden heist is one of the most audacious crimes in British history.
In scenes reminiscent of the film Oceans 11, the thieves rappelled down an elevator shaft and used heavy cutting equipment to drill through a large concrete wall and access a high-security vault at Hatton Garden Safety Deposit Ltd.
While an alarm did sound at the premises during the raid, the police did not properly investigate, and the culprits ransacked the deposit boxes deep below the streets of the British capital.
The crime was only discovered a couple of days later when staff returned to the depository after the Easter holidays to find an open vault scattered with drills, crowbars and angle-grinders.
The police’s failure to catch the robbers in the act has provoked widespread criticism. Yet Tuesday’s raids – which were based on extensive undercover work – allowed Scotland Yard a chance to defend itself.
“At times we have been portrayed as if we’ve acted like Keystone Cops,” Metropolitan Police Commander Peter Spindler told reporters. “But I want to reassure you that in the finest traditions of Scotland Yard, these detectives have done their utmost to bring justice for the victims of this callous crime.”
Want to keep up with the latest crime coverage? Click here to get breaking crime news, ongoing trial coverage and details of intriguing unsolved cases in the True Crime Newsletter.