May 21, 2015 / 8:54 AM / 4 years ago

Eight British men appear in court over multi-million pound gem heist

LONDON (Reuters) - Eight British men appeared in court on Thursday accused of carrying out a daring raid in London’s jewelry business district that involved abseiling down an elevator shaft and drilling through a two-meter thick wall.

A photo released by London's Metropolitan Police shows the scene after thieves made off with valuables worth millions. REUTERS/Metropolitan Police

The eight, who range in age from 48 to 76, appeared at Westminster Magistrates Court charged with conspiracy to burgle the Hatton Garden Safety Deposit Ltd building over the course of two nights during the long Easter weekend last month.

British media have estimated that the raid on a vault full of boxes in which many of the area’s gold, diamond and jewelry businesses kept some of their goods may have been the country’s biggest ever heist by value.

Police have not confirmed that and the court heard only that the full value of what was taken was over 10 million pounds ($15.7 million).

“This case is a notorious one,” prosecutor Edmund Hall told the court, before giving details of how the men broke their way into the vault and made off with the contents of 73 safety deposit boxes.

The eight suspects were brought to court in a convoy accompanied by armed police. Grey-haired or balding, some rather portly, they appeared in the dock surrounded by security guards. The oldest, Brian Reader, shuffled in as family members in the public gallery waved.

Hatton Garden, in the heart of London, has been home to the gem trade for centuries and boasts almost 300 dealers and more than 50 jewelry shops.

After initial embarrassment for the police, who failed to send any officers when a burglar alarm sounded in the safety deposit building at the start of the raid, detectives arrested nine men in London and nearby Kent on Tuesday.

Police said they had recovered “significant amounts of high value property” which they were confident had been taken from the vault.

Eight men were charged while the ninth has been bailed pending further investigations. Police said on Thursday that a tenth man had been arrested.

Four of the eight suspects who appeared in court are in their 50s, one in his 60s and the oldest are 74 and 76.

Brian Reader, 76, and Paul Reader, 50, have been described by British media as a father and son. Police gave the same address for both men but did not confirm their relationship.

The eight men were remanded in custody until the next hearing, at Southwark Crown Court on June 4.

Writing by Estelle Shirbon; editing by Stephen Addison

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