Skip to main content
Lloyds Bank on Baker Street, London

The Baker Street bank burglary: Britain's most audacious bank heist

Image: Lloyds Bank on Baker Street, London | Greatest Heists With Pierce Brosnan

Greatest Heists With Pierce Brosnan explores the most elaborate heists from history to reveal the meticulous planning, daring execution and shocking aftermath of each case. In episode one, Pierce investigates the Baker Street robbery, one of the most infamous bank heists of all time.

In one of the most audacious bank heists in British history, thieves tunnelled under a Lloyds Bank vault in London and made off with a sizeable loot. Now, over 50 years later, rumours and conspiracy theories surrounding the heist continue to be debated. This is the story of the Baker Street robbery.


From the Great Train Robbery of 1963 to the Hatton Garden safe deposit burglary of 2015, Britain has witnessed its fair share of daring heists. As for the most ingenious, the Baker Street Robbery of 1971 is right up there.

During the early 1970s, Britain was facing financial hardship with unemployment on the rise and economic growth on the downturn.

The criminal underworld began to look for ways to buck the trend and an enterprising criminal by the name of Anthony Gavin had just the idea. Although Gavin was a career criminal, he wasn’t your average petty thief. He’d had military training in the British Army Royal Fusiliers which made him disciplined and intelligent.

Inspired by Sherlock Holmes

Gavin masterminded a plan to break into the vault beneath a branch of Lloyds Bank at 187 Baker Street, London. The location was fitting considering that the idea for the robbery had come to Gavin after he’d read The Red-Headed League, a short story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

In the story, famous detective Sherlock Holmes, who lives at 221B Baker Street, waits in a bank vault in the hope of apprehending would-be robbers planning to tunnel in from underneath.

The gang

To achieve such a feat, Gavin knew he required skilled accomplices. Firstly, he needed someone who could map out the vault, experts who could help him dig the tunnel and finally, someone clever enough to disable the trembler alarms.

His first recruit was Reginald Tucker, somebody unknown to the police with a clean record - the perfect man for reconnaissance. Next onboard was Thomas Stephens, another man without any brushes with the law who could acquire the tools necessary for the break-in.

Next came trusted friend Mickey ‘Skinny’ Gervaise, a man with expert knowledge of burglar alarms. Finally, Gavin needed a lookout, enter criminal associate Bobby Mills. Although police believe there were other members of the gang involved in the heist, no further identities have ever been revealed.

The plan comes together

In December 1970, Tucker posed as a well-to-do member of British society and opened an account at the Lloyds Bank under a false name, depositing £500 in the process. A couple of months later, he rented a safety deposit box at the branch and began scouting out the vault with regular visits to his new box.

Tucker measured the vault with an umbrella he carried and mapped out the exact details of the room, including the location of cabinets and furniture.

Meanwhile, Stephens gathered all the tools the team would need, including sourcing a thermal lace, a 100-ton jack and explosives to help the gang bust through the cement flooring of the vault.

The team also needed a starting point and in May 1971, they were delivered a gift. A leather goods shop just two doors down from the bank closed. The property even came with a basement that the gang believed was aligned with the level of the bank vault and was separated by just 40ft. The closing business agreed to sell the lease for £10k to a 64-year-old man called Benjamin Wolfe, an associate for Gavin.

The heist begins

The last hurdle to overcome was the bank's trembler alarms and once again timing was everything for the gang. In late summer 1971, roadworks in the area had caused the alarms to go off falsely several times and so they were eventually turned off whilst the works continued. The gang was tipped off to this and pounced on the opportunity to put their plan into motion.

Digging began from their newly acquired premises and went on for several weeks with the gang choosing to dig at weekends so as not to be overhead. In a remarkable feat of engineering, the team created a structurally sound tunnel that eventually led them right under the bank vault.

Late on Friday, 10th September, they began their assault on the vault. With the bank shut for the weekend, they knew they had until Monday morning to get in and grab as much loot as they could.

Bobby Mills took up position on a nearby roof overlooking the bank and communicated everything he saw to the team via walkie-talkie. With the lookout in place, the men in the tunnel got to work with the 100-ton jack. When that failed to punch a hole in the vault’s cement flooring, they tried the thermic lance. When that too failed, they went to their final option, explosives.

Co-ordinating the explosion with traffic outside to mask the noise, the potentially disastrous strategy paid off and the gang finally had a hole into the vault.

Robert Rowlands listens in

Unbeknownst to the gang, an amateur radio enthusiast in the area began picking up their walkie-talkie conversations. He tuned in at the moment the gang bust into the vault. The fumes and dust kicked up by the explosion made working conditions inside the vault unexpectedly difficult and so the gang debated over their radios what to do next. Crack on that night or take a break and return a few hours later when, quite literally, the dust had settled? They chose the latter.

After hearing this, Robert Rowlands called his local police at around 11pm on Saturday, 11th September to tell them what he’d been hearing. They brushed him off but suggested he records the conversations. He did just that then phoned Scotland Yard directly at around 2am and played them the tapes.

This time, the police decided to act on it and contacted all the banks in the surrounding area requesting them to open their branches right away and inspect the vaults. Unbelievably, in mid-afternoon on Sunday, 12th September, police officers stood at the vault door of Lloyds Bank at 187 Baker Street and after seeing it undisturbed they moved on to inspect the next bank. The gang inside breathed a sigh of relief.

After 30 hours in the vault cracking safety deposit boxes open, the gang made their escape carrying with them money and property valued somewhere in the region of £500,000 to £3 million, that’s around £9-54 million in today’s money.

Police investigation

First thing Monday morning, bank employees discovered the vault had been breached and reported it to the police. Scotland Yard put over 100 detectives on the case and the investigation quickly led them to Benjamin Wolfe, the man whose name was on the lease to the property two doors down. Although he denied knowledge of the crime and was released after questioning, he was placed under surveillance. That, combined with information gathered from informers, soon gave the police a list of key suspects.

Just over a month later, Gavin, Tucker, Stephens and Wolfe were all arrested and in early 1973 were sentenced for their crime. All except Wolfe, who received eight years in prison, were handed down sentences of twelve years. As for Mickey Gervaise and the other unnamed accomplices, they disappeared into thin air.

The police only ever recovered around £200k of the stolen loot.

Conspiracy theories

After the robbery, the rumour mill went into overdrive with speculation of a governmental press censorship. Theories circulated about police corruption connected to the case and people pondered what exactly the gang had found in those safety deposit boxes.

One theory suggested they’d come across compromising photos of Princess Margaret, the Queen’s sister, as well as incriminating pictures of a serving Tory cabinet minister abusing young children.

Adding fuel to the fire is the fact that a great deal of the documentation around the police investigation has been placed under embargo at The National Archives and won’t be released until January 2071. Is there a coverup? Why is this still a national secret? Only time will tell.