Inside story into Britain’s £53m record robbery haul

PUBLISHED: 16:57 02 December 2009 | UPDATED: 11:39 12 August 2010

AUTHOR: Howard Sounes. Picture by Jerry Bauer.

AUTHOR: Howard Sounes. Picture by Jerry Bauer.

THE author of a book about the £53million Securitas robbery which is set to inspire a Hollywood movie said the gang took after The Ladykillers rather

THE author of a book about the £53million Securitas robbery which is set to inspire a Hollywood movie said the gang took after The Ladykillers rather than Ocean's Eleven.

Howard Sounes, whose book Heist comes out on December 4, spent three years rubbing shoulders with the criminal underworld of Kent and south-east London to research his book about the world's biggest cash robbery that took place in Tonbridge, Kent, in February 2006.

And, despite receiving threats and intimidation himself, the Welling-born writer continued to find out about the characters behind the crime and the eventual conviction of six men who were jailed for a total of nearly 80 years.

Now, as talks continue with Darren Aronofsky, who directed the Oscar-nominated The Wrestler, to make a film based on the book, former Daily Mirror journalist Mr Sounes said that the British crime flick would have a humourous edge.

"They succeeded in pulling it off but then it goes wrong," he said. "They were some great examples of stupidity.

"It was a heist, similar to the film Ocean's Eleven, but they were more like The Ladykillers, they had more money than the could cope with and kept falling out with each other so everything was going wrong. It was pretty amateurish."

But the gang, that included car dealer Stuart Royle from Maidstone, Lea Rusha, from Tunbridge Wells, Paul Allen from Woolwich, Jetmir Bucpapa, from Tonbridge, Northfleet garage owner Roger Coutts from Bexleyheath and Ermir Hysenaj, from Crowborough, also had its fair share of 'unpleasant' characters.

In the book Mr Sounes recounts how callous Royle took a loan out on his mother's bungalow causing her to lose her home and delves into the murky world of cage fighting.

And early on in his research, Mr Sounes was himself subject to threats and intimidation.

He said: "There were a couple of nasty moments, some characters locked me in a room and closed the blinds to give me a kind of interrogation. There was one guy who stood by the door and I was given the third degree as to where I got their names from.

"I was quite unprepared for that and it was not much fun. But I decided to remain calm and polite, I could see myself getting punched in the face. It was quite unpleasant.

"They let me go in the end but it didn't put me off. I was committed to do it by then and I don't think you should give up because people bully you."

Mr Sounes, 44, was then faced with communicating with another 'intimidating' individual, Sidcup's Lee Murray who was said during the Old Bailey trial to be the raid's ringleader.

Murray, who was known to police as a drug dealer and linked to a shooting in Bexleyheath, remains in a prison in Morocco having fought extradition to the UK to stand trial for the robbery.

In the opening pages of his book, Mr Sounes publishes letters that were sent personally to him by 'Lightening' Lee Lamrani-Murray.

One reads: "Why the f*** would I want to come home to face an indeterminate sentence? OK, I am in 24-hour solitary confinement in a f***in' dungeon in Morocco, with rats and cockroaches the size of mice, and a[n] English prison is like a Hilton Hotel compared to this f***in' place, but it's still four walls and a door.

"And what chance do I have of getting a 'not guilty'? They have already made it sound like I committed the robbery."

He continued: "How many tough kids on the street will grow up and get to where I got to? And I don't mean a prison cell. Probably one-in-a-million. Or should I say one in 53 million."

Mr Sounes said: "The letters tell us a lot about him, he doesn't deny doing it but he flirts with it by referring to the amount of money stolen.

"They show he has a huge ego, seeing himself as a kind of Superman gangster."

He added: "There were times when writing to him was uncomfortable, he is rather intimidating and bullying and is known for threatening and beating people up at the same time.

"He was difficult at first because of the fact I was making money out of it and he was expecting me to pay him - which I didn't of course - and because he knew there was interest in making a film about it, he obviously feels he should have a share in that.

"But at the same time, he loves the attention. He's extremely vain which comes out of his letters."

Murray's vanity was evident when he lived in the UK, as Mr Sounes points out, when he went every week to Hair Hektik in Forest Hill to have his hair gelled and styled into a spikey style before he went clubbing in central London.

It was here that he met Michael Demetris, from Bromley, who employed policeman's daughter Michelle Hogg, from Shooters Hill, who would eventually turn against the Heist robbers and give evidence for the prosecution.

Both Demetris and Hogg were accused of helping to disguise the robbers with prosthetic makeup before they posed as police officers to kidnap Securitas manager Colin Dixon and his family.

Demetris was found not guilty of conspiracy to kidnap and similar charges against Hogg were dropped when she agreed to testify as a prosecution witness.

Mr Sounes described Ms Hogg's testimony as "hysterical" and described her "bizarre" disguise in the dock, wearing a big wig and almost comedy glasses and what was thought to be a fake nose. He said: "It was extraordinary, she was crying and snivelling. She kept asking to go to the toilet 'for a wee'. She called one of the defence a 'bully in a wig', at one time, when Stuart Royle sacked his defence and cross examined her himself, they started arguing and she accused him of 'talking out of his bum'.

"It was hysterical, you'd think she would have been terrified but she was arguing with him and pointing her finger at the other guys. Then she came in with this shocking, huge black wig with kind of comedy glasses and what looked like a fake nose. It was bizarre."

After writing the bestseller Fred & Rose, Mr Sounes was inspired to put pen to paper about the massive heist that took place against a landscape of his home town.

Half of the £53million that was stolen has never been recovered and one of the biggest finds was £9.6million stashed in Welling Corner.

He said: "It was the biggest cash robbery in the world, setting the world record for how much was stolen and has everything that makes it a classic caper. It has everything to make it a great story - a gang, the plan, the job and theft, a getaway and a nice ending with a conviction and sentence."

* HEIST: The True Story of the World's Biggest Cash Robbery, published by Simon & Schuster, is out on December 4, priced £7.99.

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