The final episode of BBC drama The Gold has closed the book on the biggest gold robbery in British history – £26 million worth of bullion stolen from the Brink’s-Mat warehouse in November 1983.
Even with the villains (well, some of them) having served time – including smelting and laundering chancer, Kenneth Noye (Jack Lowden) – there are still unanswered questions about what really happened.
How much money was actually recovered?
In the final episode, the crooked-but-nice-enough-really solicitor (Dominic Cooper) helps police identify £13 million in Brink’s-Mat money, which he laundered through overseas bank accounts, front companies, and property investment – including massive investments in the Docklands redevelopment.
Roy Ramm, a former Scotland Yard commander who was present for most of the Brink’s-Mat inquiry, says that’s roughly correct. The inquiry uncovered “circa £13 million” of the Brink’s-Mat money. “You don’t really know what was being paid for, who was taking a bit out along the way, and what happened with the rest of it,” he says. “Certainly, they found investment in real estate and properties. Some was invested in drugs. Probably £13 or 14 million – that’s a flexible figure. What you can say with certainty is that we didn’t find all the proceeds of it.”
Interestingly, Lloyd’s of London, the Brink’s-Mat insurers, sent solicitor Bob McCunn to investigate anyone connected with the case or suspected to have benefitted. McCann, fearless in the face of underworld figures, threatened to sue them in the civil courts – an attempt to recoup the underwriters’ £26 million pay-out. The villains settled out of court, including Kenneth Noye, who gave them £3 million, and John ‘Little Legs’ Lloyd, who was never convicted but paid back £4.2 million.
McCunn eventually recovered around £27 million for the insurers.
How did Brink’s-Mat money build Canary Wharf?
In The Gold, the investment of laundered money in the Docklands redevelopment is a handy thematic hook – the idea of new money literally changing the face of London. Asked whether the money was really put into the Docklands, Ramm is quick to reply: “True. DCI Boyce [Hugh Bonneville in the series] and the money laundering team got a grip on that.”
Redevelopment of the Docklands in the early 1980s was a ripe opportunity for investors – or criminals with money to clean. Gordon Parry (played by Sean Harris) and solicitor Michael Relton (the basis for Dominic Cooper’s character) set up accounts and companies through which they invested in the Docklands. Buildings were developed and sold on for a big profit, and the proceeds went back to the various gang members.
In 1988, Michael Relton was convicted of helping launder proceeds and jailed for 12 years, while Parry was convicted for his part in handling the £14m worth of stolen goods in 1992.
“At the end of the day, the loss adjusters [working for Lloyd’s, Brink-Mat’s insurance company] got back more money than they lost,” says Ramm. “Because the investments were so strong.”
Is anyone looking for the rest of the money?
The recovered £13 million amounts to just half of the original haul – £26 million in gold bullion – and at the very end of the show, Det. Jennings (Charlotte Spencer) concludes that the gold was split right after the robbery. (Original robber Mickey McAvoy told Neil Forsyth and Thomas Turner as much in an interview for their book, The Gold: The Real Story behind Brink’s-Mat.)
The show ends with the detectives setting out to uncover the other £13 million – cue a bronzed villain laughing his head off somewhere along the Costa Del Crime. “You see this guy sunning himself in Spain,” says Ramm.
“The implication is that he’s benefiting from the other half of the money. I believe that’s probably true.”
In reality, police were getting tip-offs about the rest of the gold into the 1990s and early 2000s. “I don’t think there’s a hole in the ground with £13 million worth of gold in it,” says Ramm. “It’s all been laundered now. But I wouldn’t be surprised if detectives investigating organised crime today found links back to Brink’s-Mat.”
Are the Freemasons still a powerful force in the police?
In The Gold, police corruption is an exercise in back-scratching between Freemasons. A top-ranking officer, DI Neville Carter (Sean Gilder), uses influence and bribes to manipulate the investigation and help get Kenneth Noye – a fellow Mason – off the hook.
“I think there’s probably some truth to that,” says Ramm about the Freemasons’ influence in the police back then. “For obvious reasons, I don’t know exactly and it’s never been shown how deep those connections went.”
Concerns over the relationship between the Freemasons’ and the police goes back decades – particularly over officers and criminals attending the same lodges.
Certainly, the real Noye was a Freemason. He tried to ascertain whether officers investigating Brink’s-Mat were “on the square” by offering the secret handshake. Boyce, on the stand in 1985, said that Noye offered him a £1 million bribe.
As recently as 2017, Police Federation chair Steve White warned that Freemasons were obstructing reforms. Though Peter Williams, a retired inspector and senior lecturer in policing, explained that Freemasons are no longer an influence in the police – the result of constitutional changes and increasing diversity in the service.
What’s happened to the shady officer pulling the strings?
Throughout The Gold, DI Carter lurks in the shadows of the Brink’s-Mat investigation, greasing hands and manipulating other coppers.
Wensley Clarkson recognised the character as being based on a real officer, whom he called “the grim reaper of bent coppers”. Clarkson declined to name the real man, though the character is likely based on former Scotland Yard intelligence commander, Ray Adams.
Adams was suspected of previously shielding Noye against prosecution and – as detailed in The Gold tie-in book – it was also alleged that Noye offered Adams payment to corrupt the Brink’s-Mat investigation from the inside.
Adams was investigated as part of the 1987 corruption probe, Operation Russell (which saw another investigated officer commit suicide) and was later named in reports on the Stephen Lawrence murder investigation. Lawrence’s family suspected that Adams had links to gang member Clifford Norris, the father of one of the suspected – and eventually convicted – killers.
Retiring in 1993, Adams took a job as security chief at Rupert Murdoch-owned tech firm, NDS. Adams was named among accusations that NDS had hacked codes and helped pirates gain access to Murdoch’s pay-TV competitors.
But in 1990 the Director of Public Prosecutions announced that there was no evidence to support any charge against him regarding corruption allegations, and he did not face any subsequent disciplinary action.
Just last year, allegations against Adams were detailed on Dispatches. A representative stated that Adams was exonerated in all investigations.
Why did criminals move to Kent?
As depicted in The Gold, it’s true that villains from south east London moved out to Kent. Not because of Brink’s-Mat, but for its handy location – a place where the villains could spend their ill-gotten gains on a country pile (as seen when robber Mickey McAvoy buys his wife Jacqueline and mistress Kathleen a cushty Kent farm each) while having easy access to their south east London stomping grounds.
“They could get back into Rotherhithe and Old Kent Road quickly and they were familiar with it,” says Ramm. “It wasn’t far from home. In the same way that east end criminals moved out into deepest, darkest Essex.”
According to Wensley Clarkson’s book, The Curse of Brink’s-Mat, the fact that Kenneth Noye came from Bexleyheath (considered more Kent than London by fellow villains), rather than being a south east Londoner who moved to Kent, was a strike against him. “Noye wasn’t the real thing and he knew that the others thought that, too,” said the real-life Kathleen.
Was there really police corruption in Kent?
“What’s the first rule of working in Kent?” asks DCI Boyce in the second episode. His right-hand man is quick to reply: “Don’t tell Kent police you’re there.”
“The birds start singing,” adds Boyce.
Indeed, Boyce’s special task force is reluctant to alert Kent police to operations on their turf. The Kent “cozzers” can’t be trusted. Noye has Kent officers – who are also fellow Freemasons – in his pocket. Ramm recalls that being a real issue. “There was suspicion about the people in Kent and Noye,” he says.
As well as having friends in the Kent police, Noye – according to Clarkson’s book – was sleeping with a civilian within the Kent constabulary who passed him intel on the Brink’s-Mat investigation.
However, a Channel 4 Dispatches on police corruption last year told the opposite story. Retired Kent Det Supt Nick Biddiss recalled that when Kenneth Noye was wanted for a 1996 road rage murder, he “deliberately avoided” involving Metropolitan police in inquiries because of potential links within the Met to Noye.
Stories of corruption in Kent persisted until 2014, when four officers were sacked following accusations of manipulating crime stats – by getting criminals to confess to crimes they hadn’t committed. There are no longer any issues regarding corruption in the Kent police force.
Whatever happened to Jeannie?
In the series, Jeannie (Dorothy Atkinson) is a down-on-her-luck moll who’s roped into the Brink’s-Mat money laundering scheme by Noye. The real Jean Savage ran a newsagent and tobacconist. She was the partner of John “Little Legs” Lloyd, a suspected Brink’s-Mat robber who scarpered to Florida.
Savage paid more than £2.5 million of Brink’s-Mat cash into Croydon bank. Apparently, she really did drop a big wedge of notes – £12,500 – during one of her bank visits, as depicted in The Gold. The book suggests that the story may be apocryphal.
When other conspirators were rounded up, Savage panicked and transferred £4.1 million from an account. She was arrested in October 1989 and bail was set for £300,000 – the biggest ever for a female defendant in the UK.
Savage, along with three others, was convicted in 1992 of laundering Brink’s-Mat proceeds. It followed a dramatic trial, which was dismissed at one point. The retrial was then interrupted when a juror was sent home after her child fell off a cliff.
With her close-cropped peroxide blonde hair and flashy clothes, Savage was a focus of the media coverage. Newspapers reported that she was “visibly shaken” when the judge sentenced her to five years.
Where is Kenneth Noye now?
Though cleared of murdering Det. John Fordham in 1985 – whom he stabbed during a surveillance operation – Noye was eventually sentenced to 14 years for conspiracy to handle the gold and VAT evasion. He was released in 1994.
In 1996, he stabbed and killed 21-year-old Stephen Cameron in an M25 road rage incident. Going on the run, Noye was eventually caught in southern Spain and given a life sentence. He was released in 2019, after serving almost 20 years.
Noye, now 75, reportedly lives alone in a flat in Sevenoaks and mostly spends time with his 48-year-old girlfriend. Earlier this year, Noye called for an inquiry into police corruption. He said he would give evidence and called for old school criminals to be granted immunity – so they could speak freely about previous crimes, which would help authorities understand how corruption works.
An ex-con friend of Noye’s told the MailOnline that Noye is “over the moon” with The Gold. His portrayal – written and played as a Del Boy-like jack-the-lad – has drawn some criticism. Roy Ramm, who was not a fan of the series overall (“I don’t think it does the inquiry justice”), agrees that the depiction is a “very sympathetic portrayal”.