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On the streets of rundown council estate where four small time crooks plotted pounds 2 million heist; NEIGHBOURS TELL OF THEIR SHOCK AS RAIDERS ARE JAILED AND COPS STILL SEARCH FOR MISSING MONEY SPECIAL REPORT.

Byline: BY ADAM ASPINALL

IT was a heist that would not have been out of place in a Hollywood thriller.

Meticulously planned and executed with what cops called 'military precision', the daring raiders escaped with pounds 1.8 million in cash.

But these robbers were not the sharp suited wisecracking criminal masterminds of Ocean's 11 or Heat.

They were four lads from the rundown council estates of Coventry.

The unlikely gang made headlines across the world after they smashed into the NatWest bank cash handling centre in Tamworth, Staffordshire by ramming a stolen skip lorry into a wall last October.

Now starting six years behind bars, Kenneth Bourne, 26, Terrance McGurk, 29, Karl Powell, 26, and Dean Lindon, 29, were all found guilty of conspiracy to burgle at Stafford Crown court last Monday.

In what was described by the Judge in the case as a "slick and meticulous" raid, they took just 75 seconds to make off with the massive cash haul, escaping into the night in high-powered cars and on motorbikes.

The cash, in used pounds 10 and pounds 20 notes, has still not been recovered and is believed to have been hidden in France or Spain.

And the detectives in the case are still scratching their heads as to how the gang knew so much about the inner workings of the cash depot, and exactly how they pulled off such a sophisticated raid.

Detective Inspector Phil Bladen, the detective who cracked the case, said: "We always keep an open mind when it comes to criminals but these guys had never come up on our radar before.

"They all knew each other very well and had lived in the same area for years, although they had only ever been involved in petty crimes.

"But, in my 25 years as a detective, this case demonstrated a degree of planning, preparation and execution over a long period of time the likes of which I have never seen before."

It was at 10pm on October 18 last year when the night staff were dutifully counting money inside the NatWest centre on the Amington Industrial Estate when there was a loud explosion and the wall began to crumble.

Terrified staff ran screaming and shouting from the room as the raiders dived off their stolen skip lorry and quickly ransacked the money cages, dragging the cash out in a large yellow builders' sack.

They then abandoned the skip lorry, leaving its engine running.

The gang had placed themselves strategically around the cash centre a few hours earlier and witnesses later recalled noticing the skip lorry and two motorbikes, plus a dark saloon car, on the estate in the run-up to the raid.

The burglars were unarmed and concealed their identities with helmets and dark clothing, then fled as rapidly as they had arrived.

But on a visit to the rundown homes of the four gang members on the mean streets of Henley Green, in Coventry, the magnitude of their raid was difficult to comprehend.

Little is known about the inner workings of the gang and when the Sunday Mercury approached members of the local community, we encountered a wall of silence.

But those brave few who did speak were amazed that the four men in prison were capable of such a raid.

One neighbour said: "I've known a couple of them for years and although they were definitely rogues I could not imagine them pulling that off.

"Nothing changed in their behaviour before or after the job. We would never have known a thing about it until the cops broke down their doors and arrested them.

"It's gobsmacking they pulled it off at all, really."

A troubled neighbourhood with the usual glut of anti-social behaviour and drug problems, Henley Green is more the type of place to hatch a plot to rob a sub-post office than a multi-million pound cash depot.

The four had a history of petty crime and were unemployed with what the police described as no "legitimate forms of income".

But in searches at their homes officers uncovered cash and expensive items including jewellery, a plasma television and documents concerning the purchase of cars and motorbikes.

The six-year-old son of one of the gang was wearing a diamond ear stud worth pounds 7,500.

When our reporter approached the immediate families of the four thieves at their modest homes, he was rebuffed.

But Beverley Powell, the mother of Karl Powell, was still protesting his innocence.

"He's a lovely lad," she said. "He never wanted to get involved in all of this - but he did. Now, all he's interested in doing is serving his time and getting back on the straight and narrow.

"All the lads realise that they will be followed when they get out because the money has never been found. They're prepared for that, and accept everything that is going to happen to them."

The police have evidence to suggest the stolen cash was smuggled abroad by the suspected gangleader, Terrance McGurk, and is believed to be somewhere in Spain.

His girlfriend Sarah simply smiled and refused to answer our questions when we approached her at their house in Henley Green.

But Det Insp Bladen, of Staffordshire's Major Investigations Department, is still in the hunt for the missing cash and is convinced there are more gang members yet to be captured.

"We are keeping an open mind as to how the gang got their information and our investigations are ongoing," he said.

"But it is clear to us that other people were involved in the plot, and we are doing all we can to bring them to justice."

Det Insp Bladen and his team of 25 officers and staff scrutinised more than 100 hours of CCTV and took at least 1,000 statements in their hunt for the gang.

But in the end, ironically, it was the plotters who made the fatal mistake that brought them down.

"We had evidence and intelligence on the gang from a variety of sources," said Det Insp Bladen. "But the two most important pieces of evidence were the gang's mobile phone records and a tracker system attached to one of their cars.

"It turns out that they made reconnaissance trips to the counting centre at least twice in early October. On one occasion, they used a hire car to remain anonymous.

"But unbeknownst to them it was fitted with a tracker system and so we could plot exactly where they were, and when, which was crucial to us.

"Still, it is clear that this was a ruthless gang who carefully planned a very serious crime.

"They spent less than five minutes at the centre and only 75 seconds actually inside the building but in that time they caused real trauma to NatWest staff, who experienced a terrifying ordeal.

"They also endangered the lives of many people on and around the industrial estate. Their sentences reflect the grave nature of this offence."

Officers from the Lichfield-based MID are continuing to investigate a separate raid at the NatWest premises on Thursday, January 25, this year, in which a smaller amount of cash was stolen.

Det Insp Bladen said: "We are still pursuing those responsible for the second attack and urge anyone with information to ring the incident room on 01785 234953 or Crimestoppers, anonymously, on 0800 555 111."

CAPTION(S):

SMILES: Terrance McGurk's girlfriend Sarah and (above) the hole where the thieves rammed their way in with a skip lorry; JAILED: Terrance McGurk and his home in Alton Close, Henley Green; JAILED: Karl Powell and his home in Winston Avenue, Henley Green; JAILED: Kenneth Bourne and his home in Petitor Crescent, Henley Green; JAILED: Dean Lindon and his home in Mawnan Close, Exhall
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Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:Sep 9, 2007
Words:1288
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