What is the real-life story behind ITV’s heist drama Hatton Garden?

Timothy Spall and Kenneth Cranham star in this four-part drama about a multi-million-pound heist

Hatton Garden, Getty and ITV Pictures

ITV’s new four-part drama Hatton Garden is based on the true story of the April 2015 cash and jewellery heist in London’s diamond district. The burglary was carried out by a group of elderly veteran thieves who, over the Easter weekend, broke into the safe deposit facility and drilled into the vault, making off with millions of pounds worth of valuables.

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Here’s what you need to know about the real-life story behind the drama…


How did the Hatton Garden heist really happen?

It was shortly after 9pm on Thursday 2nd April 2015 when staff at the Hatton Garden Safe Deposit Ltd locked the doors and headed off to enjoy the long Easter weekend. Down in the underground vault beneath their building at 88-90 Hatton Garden were hundreds of safe deposit boxes containing precious jewellery, gemstones, diamonds and large sums of cash; many belonged to the small business owners of London’s diamond district, who stashed their entire livelihoods in these metal boxes guarded by thick concrete and complicated locks and alarm systems and shutters and metal bars. They trusted in the security of the storage. But by Sunday, a group of elderly men had broken their way into the vault and stolen millions of pounds worth of valuables.

The OAPs gathered outside Hatton Garden Safe Deposit Ltd soon after the staff had locked the doors and left. Ringleader Brian Reader had travelled on the bus from his home in Kent using someone else’s Oyster card; Daniel Jones, Carl Wood and Terry Perkins arrived in a white van along with John “Kenny” Collins, who would serve as lookout at 25 Hatton Garden where he had a clear view of both doors.

The men were dressed as utility workers, with Reader in a yellow hard hat and a florescent jacket with the word “GAS”, and immediately began unloading bags full of tools and equipment alongside multiple plastic wheelie bins for the goods. Police traced no mobile phone activity, but the men were equipped with walkie-talkies; they had come prepared.

According to Detective Chief Inspector Paul Johnson of the Metropolitan Police’s specialist Flying Squad, forensic experts found no sign of forced entry on the outside of the building – it appears they had a key or some other means of accessing the premises. But once inside, the thieves took a different approach. They sent the lift up to the second floor and disabled it, allowing them to use the vacant lift shaft to clip down to the basement; once underground, they forced open the heavy shutter doors using the equipment they’d brought along.

Hatton Garden Robbery - Police Handouts

The gang’s alarms specialist “Basil” disabled the alarms, possibly using a jammer – though this remains one of the big mysteries as it has never conclusively been established how this was done. We do know that the telephone line cable coming out of the alarm box was cut, the GPS aerial was broken, and that the wires in the electrical box powering the outer iron gate were cut, allowing it to be pulled open.

But having made their way underground to the vault, the gang’s next challenge was to get inside.

According to the Met, the thieves decided to bypass the ultra-secure vault door and instead used a heavy duty Hilti DD350 drill (cost, approx £3,500) to bore holes into the reinforced concrete wall, which is two metres thick. The plan was to drill three holes, which would create a gap big enough for several gang members to wriggle through. This is where the plan went awry. When the men drilled all the way through the wall, they were unable to topple the metal cabinet on the other side; it was bolted to the ceiling and floor.

At 12.21am, police at Scotland Yard were informed that an alarm had been triggered, but they did not respond, missing their chance to catch the thieves red-handed. The police later apologised, saying that the “call handling system and procedures for working with the alarm monitoring companies were not followed.” A member of the family which owned the company also received the call that the intruder alarm had gone off, but was not worried because, as he later told the court, the sensitive alarm had previously been triggered by an insect. Nearly an hour later, a security guard arrived, but after examining the building’s exterior he decided it was secure and left without going inside.

Exclusive Views Inside Jewellery Heist Vault

At 8am the gang left, empty handed. But it was not over yet.

While ringleader Brian Reader bailed, some of the group decided to make another attempt and – after a trip to the hardware store to buy a new pump and hose for the drill – they returned to Hatton Garden. At the last moment, Carl Wood also threw in the towel, leaving Basil, Danny and Terry to complete the job while Kenny served as lookout.

Having already considered making a second attempt, one of the men had left a door slightly ajar so they could slip back in; but in the interim days it had been pulled closed by a staff member, who (luckily for the gang) had not investigated further. Still, they were able to re-enter the building and make their way down to the vault.

This time they toppled the metal cabinet, and some of the men slipped through the hole; they set to work prying open the lockers and ransacking the boxes, passing them through to be emptied into large plastic wheelie bins. As they carried out the burglary, elderly Terry Perkins had a diabetic episode and collapsed – but thankfully for him, he had medication on hand to keep him going through the night.

At around 6:30am, after raiding 72 or 73 boxes and taking goods worth between £14 million and £200 million (estimates vary wildly), the men took the bins and cleared out.

As a temporary solution, the gang left those loot-filled bins outside Kenny’s house (on a non-collection day, of course). Just as we see in the TV drama, they then came back together and divided up the valuables, except for a few bags which were left over for later; the men took their hauls back home and hid them.

The police arrived early on Tuesday morning after the bank holiday and found a scene of devastation. The Met said in a statement: “The scene is chaotic. The vault is covered in dust and debris and the floor is strewn with discarded safety deposit boxes and numerous power tools, including an angle grinder, concrete drills and crowbars. Officers are in the process of identifying the owners of the safety deposit boxes and as we do, we are contacting them to take statements and find out what has been stolen. This is a slow and ongoing process. A forensic examination of the scene for evidence is ongoing. This is a painstaking process but is essential to ensure officers can gather as much evidence and opportunities to identify the thieves.”

Exclusive Views Inside Jewellery Heist Vault

Who were the Hatton Garden burglars?

Brian Reader, who was 77 by the time of his conviction, was described as “The Master”or “the Guv’nor” and was the oldest member of the gang. Judge Christopher Kinch said: “I’m satisfied that you were rightly described as one of the ringleaders and involved in regular meetings.” He was present on the first night of the two-day heist, and during “at least one dry run.”

Reader had been involved in the notorious Brinks Mat robbery in 1983, when a gang of armed and masked robbers burst into a warehouse, beat up and poured petrol over the security guards, and took a haul of gold and diamonds; he was one of the men who handled the gold. His first-ever conviction was at the age of 11, for burglary. In the ITV drama he is played by Kenneth Cranham.

Timothy Spall as Terry Perkins and Kenneth Cranham as Brian Reader in Hatton Garden, ITV Pictures
Timothy Spall as Terry Perkins and Kenneth Cranham as Brian Reader in Hatton Garden

Terry Perkins, played by Timothy Spall, was another experienced criminal. He had been sentenced to 22 years in jail for his involvement in a notorious 1983 robbery in which a gang with sawed-off shotguns stole millions in cash from the vaults of security firm Security Express.

Another gang member was Carl Wood, played by Geoff Bell. Then there was Danny Jones (David Hayman), who had been considering how to carry out the raid since August 2012 and had spent hours researching the “perfect heist” online and in books. In fact, the core group behind the heist had been meeting on Friday nights at The Castle pub in Islington for three years by the time they carried out the Hatton Garden raid.

A more mysterious addition to the heist was “Basil”, later revealed to be a man named Michael Seed. He was the last gang member to be captured and jailed, and was an alarms specialist who wore a red wig during the heist.


What happened to the Hatton Garden gang after they were caught?

In the six weeks after the heist, police closed in.

The men were identified from surveillance footage and from CCTV (while most cameras had been stolen or disabled, the gang had missed one above a fire exit). As investigations continued, police placed electronic bugs in two of the men’s cars where they picked up on their boasts about the raid and their heated discussions about disposing of the loot. During their meet-ups at the Castle pub, police used hidden cameras and lip-readers as the men argued over how to split the proceeds and launder the jewels. The net was tightening.

The police finally conducted their raid when the men met at an address in Enfield to handle the stolen items.

Nine suspects were arrested on 19th May 2015, and “Basil” was arrested on 28th March 2018. Ultimately, four men pleaded guilty – Brian Reader, John “Kenny” Collins, Daniel Jones, and Terry Perkins – and were convicted of conspiracy to commit burglary, receiving prison terms of around seven years each. Perkins died in jail in February 2018.

Once in custody, Danny Jones offered to show the police where he had stashed his share of the loot. But even at this point he did not come clean, leading the police to a stash under the memorial stone at a cemetery in Edmonton. By this point, the police actually already knew about a larger haul in the same cemetery, where Jones had hidden two bags of jewels.

After a trial, three further men were convicted: Carl Wood and William “Billy the Fish” Lincoln were found guilty of conspiracy to commit burglary, and also of conspiracy to conceal, convert or transfer criminal property, and jailed for six and seven years respectively.

Another man named Hugh Doyle was found guilty of concealing, converting, transferring criminal property and given a 21-month suspended sentence. Billy Lincoln’s nephew, Jon Harbinson, was found not guilty and discharged.

In March 2019, Michael “Basil” Seed was found guilty of conspiracy to burgle, and sentenced to 10 years in prison. He had been the final gang member to evade capture.

The stolen goods have yet to be fully recovered and many of the business owners, some of whom had not been able to afford insurance and had relied on the safe deposit boxes, had their livelihoods devastated.


How accurate is ITV’s Hatton Garden drama?

Hatton Garden

“There is nothing in there that has come out of thin air purely because we thought that would add a bit of spice to the pot,” writer and executive producer Jeff Pope says. He and director Paul Whittington have filled in the gaps where necessary – because of course, some of the details “will always remain impenetrable” – but the drama sticks closely to the real-life story of the Hatton Garden heist, down to some of the most specific details.

While the Metropolitan Police were not involved in the production, Pope and his team were able to call on Peter Spindler, the senior officer who had led the investigation – now retired from the police and working as a consultant. They were also able to read the reams and reams of transcripts produced by the police’s surveillance operation in the weeks leading up to the gang’s arrest; some of the dialogue from those transcripts has made its way into the Hatton Garden script word-for-word.

Detective Superintendent Craig Turner (L) and Commander Peter Spindler
Detective Superintendent Craig Turner (L) and Commander Peter Spindler

“The absolutely number one source was the transcripts, and that’s where we worked co-producer Jonathan Levi,” Pope reveals. “We did have a route into one of the families, a backdoor route shall we say, and I don’t want to go into any more detail than that…”


Is the victim Mr Cyrus a real person?

Hatton Garden introduces a character called Mr Cyrus, played by Nasser Memarzia – but while this character is based on real accounts from safety deposit box-holders, he is not a real person.

Writer Jeff Pope explains: “It’s a very insular, very closed community, the Hatton Garden jewellery community, and so those victims that we spoke to didn’t want us to use their names.

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“So, we took the decision to create a composite character, which was the character that you see in episodes one and two, and it plays out in three and four. He’s the moral through line. Whenever you start to think, ‘Wow, weren’t they clever,’ he’s there to remind the audience that in fact they stole people’s things. And in so doing, ruined their lives.”