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Criminologist Dr Emmeline Taylor and journalist, Ben Ando

The Baker Street bank burglary: 'You'd have to be an absolute idiot or an absolute mastermind to try'

Criminologist Dr Emmeline Taylor and journalist, Ben Ando share their thoughts on the Baker Street Burglary

Hosted by Pierce Brosnan, each episode of Greatest Heists With Pierce Brosnan explores some of the most elaborate real-life heists in history to reveal, in every case, the meticulous planning, daring execution and shocking aftermath. Episode one focuses on the Baker Street heist, one of the most daring bank robberies of the 1970s in which enterprising thieves tunnel underneath and up into the vault of a Lloyds Bank branch in London. When an amateur radio enthusiast intercepts their walkie-talkie chatter, they find themselves in a high-stakes cat-and-mouse game with Scotland Yard.

Sky HISTORY spoke to Professor of Criminology, Dr Emmeline Taylor and broadcast journalist, Ben Ando who provide insights about the burglary in episode 1.

Sky HISTORY: What made the Lloyds Bank branch such an appealing target?

Dr Emmeline Taylor: It was the jewel in the crown of any active robber in the 1970s. Lloyds Bank was renowned for its level of security. It had attracted the rich and famous across London and even across the UK to deposit their most valuable items in their safety deposit boxes: anything from jewellery to documents to cold, hard cash. There are rumours that there were photographs of the royal family in compromising positions and MPs as well.

What made it such an impregnable bank?

Ben Ando: I think geography more than anything. The vault was underground and was only accessible from the bank itself. There were seismic alarms that were triggered to go off if there was any suggestion that the vault was disturbed.

Dr Emmeline Taylor: At the time, the bank had the most sophisticated security around. There are bomb-proof doors, time delay locks, and trembler alarms. If you try and break into the vault, the police are going to be automatically notified. Essentially, it's the hardest place to break into, with off-the-scale amounts of wealth. Nobody would target it. You'd have to be an absolute idiot or an absolute master to try.

How would describe the approach of the Baker Street gang?

Ben Ando: The classic idea of a bank robber running into a bank with a pair of tights on his head, holding a sawn-off shotgun demanding cash: This wasn't that at all. This was much more sophisticated. It was much more discreet.

They carefully prepared. One of the gang opened an account at the bank. They had safety deposit boxes themselves, which gave the gang member an excuse to go down into the vault to case the joint. They waited six months for suitable premises to become available to rent, just two doors down from the bank.

They were very careful, very methodical and very meticulous. In some ways, they got away with it. Yes, some of them went to prison, but a large amount of what was taken has never been recovered, because clearly, there were other people involved who nobody brought to justice.

Dr Emmeline Taylor: The characteristic that sets them apart, is patience. It took months to unfold. A lot of robbers particularly nowadays, want instant gratification. This is a team that spent all of their weekend, day and night tunnelling in really harsh conditions, because they knew at the end of it, unknown riches were awaiting them

Do you believe the robbers discovered compromising material concerning a public figure?

Ben Ando: We'd love to think there are big secrets in there that are yet to come out. I think if they had discovered anything really salacious at some point in the last five decades, somebody would have blabbed. That nobody has suggests to me that perhaps what they discovered was quite dry or wasn't quite as scandalous as we'd like to think.

Dr Emmeline Taylor: The investigation is still under embargo and is being held in the National Archives till 2071. Now, immediately that suggests that there is something that is of national significance that cannot be revealed within the generation that it occurred. So, I absolutely think something is being covered up. Is it photos of Princess Margaret? Possibly. Is it photos of a well-known politician at the time? Possibly. There could well be another strand to this that has not yet come to light.

Why do people have a fascination with bank heists?

Dr Emmeline Taylor: The fascination with a professionally conducted heist is the skill and the planning that goes into it. We all like to cheer on the underdog and wonder whether it's something that we could do and get away with.

Ben Ando: I mean, nobody wants to glamorise crime, but I think of all the crimes, bank heists just grabs the imagination. For a particular cohort, there's a wistful nostalgia. From the Italian Job to The Sweeney to Get Carter, all the classic British crime capers of that era still resonate now with a lot of people and I think this bank heist is right in there.

Were these heists more prevalent in the 60s and 70s? Why do you think that was?

Ben Ando: Nowadays, it's all moved online. It's like everything else. It's all cyber it's all digital. At that time, if you got away with a lot of cash, you were well set up. Nowadays, it's very, very difficult to deal with a large amount of cash unless you've got a solid way of laundering it.

Criminals have done what the rest of us have done. They've gone online. They're scamming people, they're convincing people to transfer money over to them. In terms of going into a bank and stealing, wodges of cash, that kind of feels like an old-fashioned crime now.

Greatest Heists With Pierce Brosnan airs at 10pm on Mondays from 1st May on Sky HISTORY. The full series will be made available on Sky as a boxset from 1st May. Check out the episode guide for more information on the series.