BRITAIN’S BIGGEST ROBBERY

BY SIMON ALFORD

One of Britain’s top ‘cage fighters’ came back from the dead to mastermind Britain’s biggest ever robbery  – and lived like a Roman emperor on the loot.

Police are still chasing £32 million missing from the £53 million raid and the one man who has all the answers may never stand trial in Britain.

Prosecutors claim the fighter, who cannot be named, fled to North Africa with his share of the loot where he has relatives who are helping him fight extradition.

He was earning up to £30,000 a bout in the blood-curdling underground sport before he was stabbed in the heart outside the nightclub hosting a birthday party for glamour model Lauren Pope.

His heart stopped three times and he endured seven hours of open-heart surgery.

But within four weeks the nightclub bouncer was back in the cage, crushing his opponents with a devastating mix of kick boxing and ‘no holds barred’wrestling.

Just a few months later he would have the biggest prize of his career within his grasp – £200 million in used notes.

The Securitas depot in Tonbridge, Kent, was thought to be impenetrable.

Some of the world’s best security experts had helped build the cash ‘bunker’ where literally tons of notes were sorted and prepared for re-issue by the Bank of England .

RAZOR WIRE

Surrounded by security cameras and a 14-foot high razor wire fence, the building was designed to withstand terrorist attack and had just a few tiny windows glazed with toughened glass.

Inside, a system of ‘airlocks’ was used to move cash around and money not being sorted was kept in a blast-proof steel vault.

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It woul dbe impossible for a team of armed robbers to force their way into the building and to crack the bunker the cage fighter needed a senior manager to ‘open doors.’

He also had to find an inside man who could give him all the details of the Securitas operation and the lay-out of the building.

The fighter surrounded himself with a hand picked team of a gang of car salesmen, drug dealers and fighting partners.

He had known Roger Coutts since childhood and shared a love of martial arts with Lea Rusha and Albanian Jetmir Bucpapa.

Prosecutors claim his lieutenant was another renowned cage fighter.

As early as July 2005 the boss was spotted loitering outside the depot by police and visiting specialist shops to buy the latest surveillance equipment.

PLANTED IN THE VAULT

After18 months of planning Albanian immigrant Emir Hysenaj was ‘planted’ into the vault and weeks later he was given a tiny spy camera hidden in his belt to film inside the building.

Hysenaj also gave the gang the name of Colin Dixon – the depot manager they would kidnap and force to open the vault.

Mr Dixon would be stopped by gang members posing as policemen so he could be restrained without raising the alarm before he realised the officers were bogus.

In the weeks before the robbery the cage fighter spent hours trawling eBay looking for Kent police paraphernalia ,buying police cap badges and clothes.

As a minor celebrity it was the cage fighter who also came up with the idea of using elaborate theatrical masks to avoid being recognised so he could spend the loot at his leisure.

Detectives believe he was inspired by the film ‘Big Momma’s House’ in which an FBI agent disguises himself as an old lady to protect a witness and her son.

Mr Dixon was driving home on February 21 2006 on his usual route along the A249 home towards Herne Bay and was surprised to be pulled over by a police car with flashing blue lights near the Three Squirrels pub.

The policemen behind the wheel of a high-performance Vauxhall Vectra seemed genuine enough.cnl_stuart_royle_copy1.jpg

Dressed in high-visibility jackets and police caps, they told the manager he had been speeding.

PROSTHETIC DISGUISES

Mr Dixon did not realise the officers were wearing prosthetic disguises but began to suspect when they snapped handcuffs on his wrists and pushed him into the car.

One of the gang turned to him and smirked: ‘You’re not going to a police station. You might have guessed we’re not really policemen.’

As Mr Dixon, 52, squirmed in the back seat trying to loosen the restraints, the driver pointed to his handgun and snarled:’We’re not f***ing about – this is a 9mm’.

The terrified manager was then transferred to a white van where he was greeted by two more
gun-wielding gang members.

‘I could see the barrel,’ said Mr Dixon. ‘I was told not to look around or I would get a hole in me.’

The father-of-three,who had worked for Securitas for seven years, was taken to Elderden Farm, where he was forced to reveal details of security measures at gunpoint.

Mr Dixon said: ‘Somebody removed my glasses and applied tape to my eyes.

‘I have never ever ever been through anything like that before. I was the most scared I think I had ever been in my life.’

But the ordeal for the Dixon family had only just begun.

Some 25 miles away at his family home on the Kent coast, other members of the gang had turned their attention to his wife.

TWO HOURS LATE

Lynne Dixon, 47, was anxiously waiting for the return of her husband who by now was two hours late.

A text message to say he had stopped for petrol and was only a short distance away was the last she had heard from him and she tried to take her mind off the worry by wrapping presents for her child’s birthday.

‘Then the doorbell went,’ she said.

‘There were two policemen. I automatically thought that they were going to say Colin had been in an accident and that’s exactly what they said.

‘I said to them I had my child upstairs and their suggestion was they would take both of us to the hospital.’

Frantic with worry, Mrs Dixon woke her child believing her husband was fighting for his life.

But on hearing Magic FM blasting from the policemen’s car stereo Mrs Dixon questioned the men over their ID.

She said: ‘They both looked at each other and said “oh, it’s in the boot”. I realised what was happening.

‘I screamed. I suddenly had a hand over my mouth. My foot was still outside the car and the door was shut on my leg.’

Mother and child were shoved in the car and driven at speed from the scene as Mrs Dixon hugged the youngster and whispered ‘I’m sorry’.

‘I didn’t think we would survive the night,’ she said.

FAKED PARCELFORCE VAN

Mrs Dixon and her child were taken to Brenley Lane, bundled in to the back of a faked Parcelforce van and driven to the farm.

At 1am the robbers led Mr Dixon to a waiting Volvo which led a convoy of vehicles to the high-security depot.

Mr Dixon was made to open the gates and the robbery gang stormed the building armed with a Skorpion machine gun, a pump-action shotgun, a handgun and a Kalashinkov assault rifle.

The gang boss took a register of staff to ensure no one was hiding in the building and even timed the heist with a stopwatch.

Staff had their wrists bound with cable ties and were bundled into the steel cages used to store cash as £52,996,760 was loaded on to the back of a lorry using a fork lift truck.

As the manager opened the vault he told his staff: ‘Do what they say, they’ve got my wife and kid.’

One of the gang shouted: ‘Let’s rock and roll,’ as he sprinted from the sorting room and the convoy left the compound.

The robber shad taken just 66 minutes to remove the cash. They could have taken another £152 million but their 7.5 tonne Renault lorry could not carry any more.

It was Mr Dixon’s young child who managed to slip out of a cage and grab the padlock keys to release the hostages.

DOWN ON THE FARM

By the time police arrived at the depot the robbers were already at Elderden Farm.

In the next few days the gang attempted to destroy everything which might link them to the robbery.

Their disguises and operational phones were burned on a bonfire seen blazing on the morning of the raid.

The day after the robbery the Volvo and Vectra cars used in the kidnapping of the Dixons were torched on a deserted country lane and the red Parcelforce van abandoned in a pub car park.

Over £32 million in cash was smuggled out the country in boats to the continent via a reverse drug smuggling route.

But despite the meticulous planning the gang had made a series of mistakes.

As the loot-laden Renault lorry swung out of the loading bay it collided with a steel boom, knocking off the amber reflective light and leaving behind crucial evidence.

Police would later find the DNA of Coutts on nine cable ties used to bind the workers.

The raiders also left a trail of forensic clues while dumping vehicles and Mrs Dixon was later able to identify features of Elderden Farm through her loose fitting blindfold.

But it was a phone call from a close contact of Michelle Hogg which would provide the crucial breakthrough for police.

HARVEY NICHOLS SALESGIRL

In early February the former Harvey Nichols salesgirl, who had qualified in prosthetics at the London School of Fashion, was asked to create disguises for a group of men.

On February 6 Hogg was taken to theatrical make up shop Charles Fox in Covent Garden to buy £400 worth of products.

That evening Stuart Royle, Jetmir Bucpapa,  Lea Rusha,  RogerCoutts and three others began the first of a series of visits to herhome in Vicarage Park, Plumstead, southeast London to create their disguises.

Hogg saw the horrific scars on the cage fighter’s body when he had removed his shirt and told how he asked her to cover adistinctive mark on his face.

Two days before the raid the hairdresser applied the final masks and claimed she was horrified to learn they had carried out Britain’s biggest robbery.

‘I just couldn’t believe it,’ she told the Old Bailey. ‘I was just “Oh My God! Please don’t let that be what they have done.’

Hogg dumped the make-up and latex but a friend called the police to give them their major break in the case. telling detectives: ‘I think Michelle is introuble.’

When police searched a wheelie bin outside her home they discovered make-up, latex, false hair, and detailed instructions about the various disguises.

Hogg originally refused to name those involved telling police: ‘I could establish my innocence but I am terrified as to what may happen to me and my family if I say too much.

I do not think police could protect me.’

PLANS FOR THE DEPOT

When Rusha was arrested, police found plans of the depot at his home as well as Securitas note wrappers and an outfit and weapon used in the raid.

He was also linked to a lock-up garage where £8.6million was uncovered and his DNA was discovered on a balaclava in a van containing £1.3million,parked at the Ashford International Hotel Car Park.

In the same van the DNA of Bucpapa was found on a handle of the bag containing the cash.

Securitas cash was also discovered at Elderden Farm and £8.9 million was found at ENR Cars linked to Roger Coutts.

Some 57 people in all were arrested and within days of the raid the major players had been picked up. In all 16 people were charged.

But by now the brains behind the operation and his trusted lieutenant were in Morocco.

Four days after the robbery the pair drove to Dover and then Holland before travelling to Rabat.

The boss could afford to leave behind £38,150 which was found in an empty address in Thamesmead linked to the cage fighter.

But the pair had been under constant surveillance by the police since they arrived in Morocco.

Police watched as the top cage fighter spent a fortune gambling, buying expensive jewellery and designer clothes and celebrating in five-star hotels.

BELLY DANCER PARTIES

He arranged huge parties where they were entertained by belly dancers and high class prostitutes, toasting his success with magnums of vintage champagne.

The gang boss based himself in arented villa in the upmarket Souissi district of the capital Rabat owned by a fellow cage fighter while a luxury mansion was being built.

He spent £1million on the two-storey villa, which included statues of himself and a mural of him winning an Ultimate Fighting boutin Las Vegas.

The huge artwork loomed over a hot tub which the cagefighter had demanded be built on the ground floor over-looking the grounds so he could admire himself and pose like Al Pacino in the film ‘Scarface’ with mounds of top-quality cocaine.

His villa was finished with wall-to-wall marble and huge pillared staircases adorned with classical statues and antique vases.

The cagefighter bought a second home luxury home, a flat, and two Mercedes including the top-of-the-range gold car he would be drivingwhen he was arrested.

He was captured in a Moroccan shopping centre as he bought a plane ticket to Amsterdam.

Armed police sealed off the mall and slashed the tyres of his gold Mercedes to prevent his escape as he and his accomplice were arrested for importation of cocaine.

Both cage fighters served eight monthsin tough Moroccan jails and the bank accounts of the boss which contained millions of pounds, was frozen.

BOSS FIGHTS EXTRADITION

The lieutenant has been extradited to face trial but his boss is still fighting to stay on Morroco.

Millions more of the Securitas cash is believed to gave gone to Northern Cyprus with Sean Lupton who fled the country and vanished in late 2006.

Keyinde Patterson,who helped organise the Hollywood style masks worn by the gang is thought to have gone ‘island hopping’ around the West Indies after theraid to put police off his scent.

A fortune may have also gone to relatives and friends of Bucpapa and Hysenaj in Albania.

A total of £21,117,053 recovered in 13 seizures across the south-east but more than £32 million has never been recovered.cnl_ermir_hysenaj_copy1.jpg

Hogg was charged with the robbers but in a dramatic twist during the trials he swapped the dock for the witness box, agreeing to name names in returnfor charges against her being dropped.

The judge, Mr Justice Penry-Davey described it as ‘organised banditry’ and called it a’ruthlessly executed raid’ with the threat of ‘lethal violence’ to the Dixon family.

Lee Rusha, 35, a former British champion stick and knife fighter who brandished a Skorpion machine pistol in the raid was given an indeterminate sentence for public protection and ordered toserve at least 15 years before he can be released.

Stuart Royle, 49, the second hand car dealer who provided the vehicles and helped plot the raid was given an identical sentence.

ALBANIAN GETS 15 YEARS

Albanian Jetmir Bucpapa, 26, who organised the surveillance and ‘tiger kidnapping’ of Mr Dixon was also given an indeterminate sentence for public protection and ordered to serve at least 15 years jail.

The judge also recommended Bucpapa’s deportation.

Countryman Emir Hysenaj, 28, who was planted in the vault and filmed it on a secretcamera, was jailed for 20 years. He may be eligible for paroleafter 10 years and will also be deported.

Roger Coutts, 30, who tied upstaff in the vault with cable ties was also given an indeterminate sentence for public protection and ordered to serve at least 15 years.

The verdicts are cold comfort for the Dixon family and many other employees of Securitas.

For many the mental scars of the victims the and psychological effects remain -flashbacks, mood swings, fear of strangers and the dark.

Mr and Mrs Dixon have since relocated in Australia and are now only able to visit their Herne Bay home in disguise.

Mrs Dixon said: ‘We have been estranged from our family and friends.The consequences of what these people did have changed our lives completely.’

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