For those of us in the industry, reports of the remarkably well organised raid on the Hatton Garden Safe Deposit Centre raise a number of questions that several weeks later remain unanswered.

Firstly, there’s the question of the alarm activated in the early hours of Good Friday. Why did the police decide that no action was required? It seems bizarre that in spite of the level of sophistication of modern intruder alarm systems, an officer at a remote location has the authority to decide whether or not to respond to an alert. Then there was the security guard who responded to the alarm by simply peering through windows, claiming he was, “Not paid enough” to check inside the vault. Had the police or the security guard taken appropriate action at this point, it is almost certain that the raid would have been aborted.

It seems obvious that the raiders must have had some very detailed inside information concerning the building’s layout and security systems. As yet there have been no reported arrests and no indication where the gang may have acquired this knowledge.

No details have been released regarding the intruder alarm system but given the nature of the business, it is reasonable to assume that it was highly sophisticated, yet the gang seems to have had little difficulty in disabling it. For some reason, possibly cost, CCTV images were not constantly monitored. Video images were recorded on disk but it seems the raiders knew where to find the recorder and remove the disc.

Having broken into the building through the roof they disabled the lift and abseiled down the shaft to the basement area where they reportedly cut through an 18” steel door. However, this seems unlikely. They may have had to overcome a secondary security door but any 18” door would have been the main strongroom door to the vault. The gang avoided this by attacking the vault wall.

The most interesting part was how they broke through a 2m thick concrete wall into the vault. One newspaper reported that the wall construction included ‘springs’. These are overlapping steel coils cast into the concrete as an anti-penetration barrier. However, it seems that they may have used an extremely powerful Hilti DD350 diamond core drill to punch a series of holes though the wall until there was sufficient room for men and tools to be passed into the vault. The Dutch are world experts in using core drills for punching holes through concrete dams and it is likely that the raiders would have needed instruction in operating this type of machine. They would also have needed prior knowledge of the thickness of the wall in order to bring the correct depth core drills.

Having gained access to the vault they reportedly used angle grinders and forcing tools to open deposit boxes. They had the entire four day Bank Holiday weekend to mount the raid yet reports said they left the scene at 6.45 Sunday morning having forced just 72 out of 300 boxes. Were these 72 boxes targeted or were they just opened at random? It could be that the gang was working on the assumption that it would be two days before the raid was discovered, giving them time to exit the country with their loot before the ports and airports were alerted.

Mick Fitch, a Director of Risk Management Surveys Ltd, a specialist risk surveyor and Chairman of the Association of Insurance Surveyors Safe Committee, has reviewed a number of raids on safe deposit centres in the past. He comments, “It is more often a failure of security procedures that enable these raids to succeed rather than any fault in the physical security barriers, but it’s too early to comment on this particular raid until further details are released by the police”. At the moment police are saying nothing and at the time of writing, even loss adjusters have not been permitted to enter the vaults. Consequently depositors still have no idea if their box was one of the 72 raided.

One conclusion we can draw from what we know so far is that even given today’s electronic wizardry, alarm systems can fail, particularly where a human factor is involved. Consequently the safe or vault must always be designed to be the final bastion.

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