10 of the biggest robberies of all time

Great train robbers' Monopoly boardSome people don't pin all their hopes of sudden and extreme wealth on winning the lottery.

Instead, they take matters into their own hands and risk prison or even death in a bid to pull off a major heist. Here, we reveal the stories behind the 10 top robberies ever committed.

1. Central Bank of Iraq
Iraq: $1 billion

The largest bank robbery in history was also probably the simplest. It took place the day before Coalition forces began bombing Iraq in March 2003, when Saddam Hussain sent his son Qusay to make a withdrawal on his behalf.

Qusay needed just a handwritten note from his father to withdraw cash of about $1 billion, only about $650 million of which was later recovered by US troops.

It was hidden in the walls of one of Saddam's palaces, while the other $350 million or so is considered lost.

2. City Bonds Robbery
UK: £292 million

In May 1990, John Goddard, a messenger working for broker Sheppards, was mugged at knifepoint while carrying a briefcase containing £292 million in bearer bonds on a quiet London side street.

The contents of the briefcase were bearer bonds, which belong to whoever holds them (in other words the bearer) and are therefore as good as cash.

Fortunately, all but two of the bonds were recovered, while criminal Keith Cheeseman was arrested in connection to the crime and received a six-and-a-half year sentence.

In an unsavoury twist, however, Patrick Thomas, the man believed to have carried out the mugging, was found dead of a gunshot wound to the head before he could be charged.

3. Boston Museum
US: $300 million

In March 1990, two men dressed as police officers convinced two inexperienced security guards at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston to let them into the premises so they could respond to a "disturbance".

Once inside, they handcuffed the hapless security guards and spent more than an hour stealing 12 pieces of art with a combined value of more than $300 million. Among the paintings stolen were three Rembrandts and a Vermeer.

The case has never been solved and there is a $5 million reward for any information leading to the return of the artworks.

4. Schiphol Airport Heist
Amsterdam: $118 million

Early in 2005, four men stole a cargo truck and uniforms belonging to Dutch airline KLM.

A couple of weeks later, they used these props to allow them to carry out the largest diamond heist in history by driving right up to a KLM truck that was carrying a large haul of uncut diamonds destined for Antwerp.

In full view of many witnesses, they ordered the drivers out at gun-point and simply got in the truck and drove it away with diamonds worth an estimated $118 million.

Police suspected an inside job and quickly arrested several men in connection with the theft.

5. Harry Winston
France: $108 million

In December 2008, four armed men - three of whom were dressed as women - entered upmarket Paris jewellery store Harry Winston shortly before closing time.

After cleaning out the display cases, they forced staff to loot the storage area, all without firing a shot.

Harry Winston shares fell by 9% the next day after word of the robbery, which came hot on the heels of a similar but smaller heist the previous year, got out.

Some 25 people have since been arrested for the crime, aged between 22 and 67.

6. Knightsbridge Security Deposit
UK: £60 million

Lawyer's son Valerio Viccei moved to the UK from Italy, where he was wanted for more than 50 armed robberies, in 1986.

The following year, he and an accomplice entered the Knightsbridge Safe Deposit Centre and asked to rent a Safe Deposit Box.

After being led into the vault, they subdued the manager and the guards before opening the doors to other gang members. They then plundered the safe deposit boxes, netting an estimated £60 million (worth more than £100 million in today's money).

Valerio fled to Latin America while his accomplices were arrested, but was caught when he returned to England sometime later to retrieve his beloved Ferrari.

He was sentenced to 22 years in prison, but was killed in a gunfight in 2000.

7. Banco Central
Brazil: $70 million

This bank heist, which took place in 2005, required significant planning. It involved a fully air-conditioned tunnel running from a rented house to the vault of Banco Central, the central bank of Brazil.

The value of the five containers of 50 Real notes stolen by the gang, which disabled the bank's sensors and alarms, was estimated at between $70 million and $95 million.

To this date, no-one has ever been charged with the sophisticated crime.

8. The Great Train Robbery
UK: £2.6 million

The famous great train robbery was committed at Ledburn in Buckinghamshire in August 1963.

The gang involved, which was led by Bruce Reynolds, stole 120 mail bags containing about £40 million in today's money without having to resort to guns.

However, 12 of the members were later captured after police found fingerprints.

Gang member Ronnie Biggs managed to escape prison by undergoing plastic surgery and fleeing to Brazil via Paris and Australia. But he returned to Britain voluntarily in 2001, at which point he was incarcerated until 2009.

9. Kent Securitas Depot
UK: £53 million

In February, 2006, Kent Securitas Depot manager Colin Dixon was driving home from work when he was pulled over by an unmarked police car and placed "under arrest".

Simultaneously, his wife and son were taken hostage by uniformed "police officers" and then taken to the Depot the next day at gunpoint, where Dixon was told they would be killed if he did not cooperate.

The gang walked away with more than £50 million in gold coins. However, more than 30 people have since been arrested in connection with the crime.

Several are serving prison sentences at the moment, while almost £20 million of the haul has also been recovered.

10. Brinks Mat Warehouse
UK: £26 million

In November 1983, with the help of security guard Anthony Black, six men broke in to the Brinks Mat warehouse at Heathrow Airport expecting to find cash worth £3 million.

They thought they were in luck when they found gold, diamonds and cash worth £26 million instead.

However, despite three tonnes of the gold never being recovered, gang leader Brian Robinson was later sentenced to 25 years in prison.

10 things we hate about our banks
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10 of the biggest robberies of all time

More than 46,000 of 106,000 the complaints received by the FOS in the second half of last year related to payment protection insurance (PPI). And the organisation is expecting to receive a record 165,000 PPI complaints in 2012/2013.

The huge numbers are due to the PPI mis-selling scandal that should now be a thing of the past, but there is no doubt that the insurance, which can add thousands to the cost of a loan, is highly unpopular!

(Pictured: Martin Lewis after the PPI payout ruling)

Complaints about mortgages jumped by 38% in the last six months of last year, the FOS figures show, compared to an increase of just 5% in investment-related complaints.

Common gripes about mortgages include the exit penalties imposed should you want to sell up or change you mortgage before a fixed or discounted deal comes to an end, and the high arrangement fees charged by many lenders.

While there is nothing in the data released by the FOS about the number of complaints relating to savings accounts, hard-pressed savers have been struggling with low interest rates for several years now.

You can get up to 3.10% with Santander's easy-access eSaver account, but many older accounts are paying 1.00% or less and even this market-leading offer includes a 12-month bonus of 2.60% - meaning that the rate will plummet to just 0.50% after the first year.

Banks are imposing the highest authorised overdraft interest rates since records began, with today's borrowers paying an average of 19.47%, according to the Bank of England.

A typical Briton with an overdraft of £1,000 is therefore forking out around £200 in interest charges alone. Coupled with meagre returns on savings, it's enough to make your blood boil!

While authorised overdrafts may seem expensive, going into the red without permission will cost you even more due to huge penalty fees.

Barclays, for example, charges £8 (up to a maximum of £40 a day) each time that there is not enough money in your account to cover a payment.

If you need to send money abroad, the likelihood is that your bank will impose transfer charges - and offer you a poor rate of exchange. Someone transferring a five-figure sum could easily lose out by £500 or more as a result.

The good news, however, is that you can often get a better deal by using a currency specialist such as Moneycorp.

Automated telephone banking systems, not to mention call centres in far-flung parts of the world, are one of our top gripes - especially as we often encounter them when we are already calling to report a problem.

In the words of one disgruntled customer: "What is it about telephone banking that turns me into Victor Meldrew? Well, maybe it's the fourteen security questions, maybe it's the range of products that they try to push or maybe it's because I'm forced to listen to jazz funk at full volume while my phone bill soars.

"Actually though, I think it's because the people I eventually speak to rarely seem able to solve the issue I'm calling about."

The days of a personal relationship with your bank manager are long gone - for the huge majority of us at least.

When ethical Triodos Bank investigated recently why around 9 million Britons would not recommend their banks to a friend or relative, it found that almost a third felt they were not treated as individuals. Another 40%, meanwhile, were simply disappointed with the customer service they received.

When you're in a rush, the last thing you want to do is wait in a long queue at your local branch.

Researchers at consumer champion Which? recently found that most people get seen within 12 minutes, but you could have a much longer wait if you go in at a busy time. Frustrating stuff!

The Triodos Bank research also indicated that the bonus culture that ensured the bank's high-flying employees received large salaries, even when it was making a loss at the taxpayer's expense, was hugely unpopular with consumers.

About a quarter of those who would not recommend their current banks said this was the main reason why. And with RBS executives sharing a £785 million bonus pool despite the bank, which is 82% publicly owned, making a loss of £2 billion last year, it's not hard to see why.


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