THE last thing guard Robin Riseley and his colleague saw before a hood was thrown over their head and they were doused in petrol was a pistol pointed at them.
Miraculously, the robbers didn't carry through with their threats to set them alight, however, as they went on to discover £26million worth of gold in the warehouse on Heathrow’s perimeter – £23million more than they expected.
They ultimately pulled off the Crime of the Century on November 26, 1983 – now known as the Brink's-Mat bullion robbery – stealing 6,800 gold ingots, diamonds and cash, which would be worth £100million today.
The brains behind the operation was Brian “The Colonel” Robinson, who recently died penniless in a nursing home at Kidbrooke, South East London.
He wasn't the only one involved to reach an unfortunate end though, as the heist unleashed a trail of bloody murders, endless crimes and jail terms – as well as a global hunt for the treasure.
Here we look back over the shocking robbery…
'He started rattling a matchbox in front of my face'
When Riseley and fellow guard Michael Scouse began their shift on November 26, 1983, they had no idea of the horrors to come.
Shortly after dawn, six armed men stormed into the Brink’s-Mat warehouse at Heathrow, before threatening the guards in an effort to access the combinations for the safes.
Speaking about the ordeal to The Guardian in 2003, Scouse recalled how their colleague, Tony Black, had been running late that morning.
When he did show up, he feigned going to the toilet – before letting the other robbers inside. It turned out, he'd been working as their inside man all along.
"The first thing I knew was a man pointing a semi-automatic pistol at my face and telling us all to hit the floor," Riseley told the news outlet.
He and Scouse claim they were doused in petrol and threatened if they didn't hand over the combinations.
"The company had just changed the combinations and I hadn't memorised the new one, so the safe wouldn't open," he recalled.
"They felt I was messing about. I heard someone say: 'It looks like we got a hero,' and he started rattling a matchbox in front of my face and then pulled out a diver's knife and said he was going to castrate me if I didn't give him the numbers."
The robbers eventually discovered far more than they were looking for inside the vault – £24million of gold to be exact, worth around £100million today.
They managed to escape without being caught, sparking a major manhunt in the area in the days that followed.
Wealthy leaders' ultimate downfalls
Soon after their escape, the gang are said to have recruited other underworld figures to help them melt down the gold, so it could be laundered.
It led to millions of pounds filtering through the underworld at the time – eventually triggering a wave of crimes and murders in its wake.
Police immediately turned their attention to inside man Black, as he had arrived late that morning, and he eventually named three of the robbers – his brother-in-law Brian Robinson, Micky McAvoy and Tony White.
McAvoy did very little to hide his newfound wealth, and in his book The Curse of Brink’s-Mat, author and expert on the heist, Wensley Clarkson, reveals how he began living a luxury lifestyle in a mansion in Kent.
He's even claimed to have had two rottweilers he named Brink’s and Mat.
They were all eventually arrested and in December 1984, Robinson and McAvoy were jailed for 25 years each and Black was sentenced to six years. White was found not guilty – although was found to have handled the gold at a later date.
A trail of murder and lengthy prison terms
After McAvoy's arrest, The Guardian reports a man called Brian Perry, who ran a minicab agency in east London, brought in Kenneth Noye to help recruit people to smelt the gold.
By 1985, Noye was being watched by police – including Detective Constable John Fordham.
After making his way into the grounds of Noye's home, Fordham ended up in a fight with the owner – who was carrying a knife at the time. Fordham suffered at least 10 stab wounds and later died.
The jury found Noye not guilty of murder, on the grounds of self-defence. However, police eventually found eleven gold bars hidden around the premises and he was later found guilty of conspiring to handle gold from the robbery and conspiring to evade VAT payments.
After his conviction, he's said to have shouted to the jury: "I hope you all die of cancer."
He was sentenced to 14 years, before being released.
However, he was then given a life sentence after murdering 21-year-old motorist Stephen Cameron in a road rage attack near the M25 in 1996, while on release from prison on licence. He was released on parole in 2019.
Meanwhile, another man later linked to the robbery aftermath was John Palmer, dubbed 'Goldfinger', who ran a jewellery dealing company, Scadlynn Ltd, in Bristol.
He had been melting down the gold in a furnace hidden in his garden, but always denied any knowledge of it being stolen. He was acquitted of handling stolen bullion at the Old Bailey in 1987.
He left Britain and went on to build a £300million fortune with a massive timeshare con in Tenerife. He lived a jet-set lifestyle with homes in Britain, Tenerife and a French chateau.
Palmer was finally jailed for eight years at the Old Bailey in 2001 for timeshare fraud after cheating money out of 17,000 Brits.
He's thought to have continued his operations from behind bars, however.
After several more brushes with the law, Palmer, then 64, was gunned down and killed in June 2015 in his gated home near Brentwood, Essex.
Axe killings, shootings & chain-wrapped bodies
Since then the 'curse' following the robbery has only continued.
An ex-cop, Daniel Morgan, was found dead with an axe in his head in 1987, in a South London car park. He had previously investigated the robbery.
Great Train Robber Charlie Wilson was then in the firing line when £3million of Brink’s-Mat money went missing in a drug deal.
He was gunned down and killed at his Marbella home in 1990.
That same year, Nick Whiting, a suspected grass and known associate of Noye, was stabbed nine times and shot twice in 1990. His body was dumped in Essex.
In 1996, Keith Hedley, who is thought to have been an associate of Noye, was shot dead on his yacht off Corfu.
Two years after that, in 1998, Hatton Garden jeweller Solly Nahome – who had handled some of the gold – was shot dead outside his home in Finchley, London.
It only continued to get worse from there.
In 2000, builder Jon Bristow, 39, was shot and dumped in chains in the sea close to the coast at Sheerness, Kent, in 2000. It's claimed his mistake was simply knowing one of the Brink’s robbers.
Meanwhile, in 2001 the murder of suspected gang associate Brian Perry, 63, shocked London, when he was gunned down as he got out of his car in Bermondsey.
A source told Clarkson: "Certain people wanted their share of the gold and when it wasn’t there waiting for them, they started getting very upset."
Then in 2003, suspected Brink’s gang member George Francis was shot four times at his haulage firm in Bermondsey, south London.
Much of the original haul from the robbery has still not been recovered by police to this day.
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