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The 'fast and ruthless' $46M Brink's-Mat gold robbery of 1983

It was a heist of gold bullion unlike almost any other that came before it, though it involved greedy men with guns and violent actions.

High-profile heist saw armed men steal a pile of gold bricks 'about the size of a small table'

The CBC's Brian Stewart reports on a violent heist that occurred in London, England on Nov. 26, 1983. 2:17

It was a massive heist of gold bullion unlike almost any other that came before it, though it involved greedy men with guns and violent actions.

The National had described it as being "the world's biggest peacetime robbery ever."

But the total take from the Brink's-Mat warehouse near London's Heathrow Airport on Nov. 26, 1983, was an estimated $46 million in gold, a jaw-dropping instant and ill-gotten fortune that would be worth more than twice that figure today with inflation figured in.

"The giant robbery was fast and ruthless," the CBC's Brian Stewart told viewers on The National the night of the high-profile heist, which also saw the intruders make off with tens of thousands of dollars worth of diamonds.

Initial reports suggested that six men had been involved in the events that unfolded at the warehouse. The guards on site were tied up and threatened with being set on fire if they did not comply with their assailants.

"Then they made off with an incredible three tons of pure gold," said Stewart, referring to the robbers.

The New York Times reported one guard managed to eventually free himself and call the police, but the armed robbers were long gone by then.

A table-sized pile of gold

Police are seen investigating the heist that occurred at Unit 7 of the Brink's-Mat security warehouse on the Heathrow Industrial Trading Estate on Nov. 26, 1983. (PA Images/Getty Images)

Commander Frank Cater, then the head of Scotland Yard's so-called flying squad, spoke to reporters outside the warehouse and was asked to describe the volume of gold that had been taken.

"My information is that in total bulk, it would be — if one were to stack it together in the boxes, do you follow — that something six feet in length, about three to three-and-a-half feet in height and about two-and-a-half to three feet across," he said.

Stewart then gave viewers a more visual sense of how much gold that would be to look at.

"In other words, the gold pile is about the size of a small table, not an impossible stash to hide or to bury," he said, also noting in his report that it would have to be melted down before it could be sold.

'Dangling that huge reward'

Brian Stewart said police hoped a reward would help spur "a leak or a betrayal" to help police solve the Brink's-Mat heist that occurred near Heathrow Airport in November 1983. (The National/CBC Archives)

By the end of the day, a multimillion-dollar reward had been offered, which Stewart said was hoped would have the desired result.

"Tonight, police are scouring underworld haunts and dangling that huge reward in hopes of a leak or a betrayal. The British underworld is notoriously quick to inform on its members when the price is right," said Stewart.

"But police do not rule out the possibility that this mob may have organized a getaway just as efficient as the robbery itself."

In time, police did make arrests — a Brink's-Mat guard among them, who admitted to passing information to the robbers and who received a six-year sentence for his involvement in the crime.

Others convicted in the wake of the robbery were handed longer sentences, including two men who were each ordered to spend 25 years behind bars.