UK Dome diamond raiders jailed
LONDON, England -- Four men have been found guilty of plotting to steal £200 million ($300 million) worth of diamonds from the Millennium Dome in London.
The Old Bailey jury reached majority verdicts against the defendants after deliberating for nearly seven days.
They found Aldo Ciarrocchi, 32, Raymond Betson, 40, William Cockram, 49, and Robert Adams, 57, guilty of conspiracy to rob.
Betson, of Chatham, Kent, south-east England, and Cockram, 49, from Catford, south-east London, were jailed for 18 years each.
Adams, 57, of no fixed address, and Ciarrocchi, 32, of Bermondsey, south-east London, were each jailed for 15 years.
Jailing the men on Monday, Judge Michael Coombe told them: "You played for very high stakes and you must have known perfectly well what the penalty would be if your enterprise did not succeed."
A fifth man, Kevin Meredith, 34, was cleared of conspiracy to rob but convicted of conspiracy to steal and was jailed for five years.
Had it been successful, the attempted robbery would have been the world's biggest-ever jewel heist, dwarfing the most valuable gem theft to date by nearly 10 times.
The court was told how the gang intended to snatch the stones by smashing their way into the Dome on an earthmover and escape across the River Thames by speedboat.
They ram-raided their way inside with a JCB digger but were caught red handed by armed police inches away from seizing jewels from the De Beers diamond exhibition, including the Millennium Star and the eleven Millennium Blue Diamonds.
Unknown to the robbers the real jewels had been swapped with fakes after a police tip off. The raid was foiled by Scotland Yard, backed up by armed police.
"It was a remarkable police operation. But for their intervention they would have got away with £200 million worth of diamonds," said Martin Heslop, QC prosecuting.
The four men found guilty of the robbery charge had admitted the lesser charge of conspiring to steal.
Meredith denied both conspiracy to rob and conspiracy to steal.
The court also heard how the undercover police operation which led to the gang's capture was known to only five key figures at the Dome.
The attraction's executive chairman, David James, French chief executive P.Y. Gerbeau, two executive directors and the head of security were the only members of staff who knew of the operation.
James said: "The police said they were not quite certain how these people were going to do it and they had no evidence to apprehend them beforehand.
"We were told there were certain days when it may happen and times of high tide were most likely.
"It was going to take place just before or after the exhibition opened because they didn't want a lot of people around."
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