Real entertainment came to the Millennium Dome yesterday in the form of an attempted robbery. The target was the collection of diamonds displayed by the De Beers company in the Business Zone. Worth an estimated £350 million, the collection includes the fabulous Millennium Star, the third largest diamond in the world.|
Unfortunately, for the thieves, the police knew that they were coming. And when they crashed into the Dome on a hi-jacked JCB digger, they found over 100 police officers, some of them armed, waiting for them to arrive. Worse, the diamond collection had been replaced by fakes as a routine precaution.
Police have arrested a gang of 12. The four who assaulted the Dome, one manning the decoy getaway speedboat on the river and a lookout on the far bank of the Thames were all arrested at the time of the robbery attempt. The Flying Squad collected six associates in follow-up raids in various parts of London and Kent, most of them within one hour of the assault on the Dome.
The Dome's advertisers gave it the operating slogan 'One truly amazing day out'. Today's performance certainly was amazing! A spokesman for New Scotland Yard revealed that detectives have been watching the gang for "a period of months". It is believed that the raiders were planning to demand a ransom of £40 million from De Beers for the safe return of the collection, which also includes 13 rare blue diamonds.
Scotland Yard knew that the robbery would be timed to coincide with high tide on the Thames and the thieves were planning to escape disguised as Dome staff while the police chased their decoy speedboat. Unable to get too close to the gang for fear of warning them off, the Flying Squad has set up the ambush at the Dome at least twenty times before. Yesterday, they achieved their amazing success.
Executives of A New Millennium Dawn, the Dome's managing quango, a number of key staff and the Dome Secretary, Dame Alice Wrathe, were all informed of the planned robbery and the police took extensive precautions to ensure the complete safety of the public.
When the raiders crashed in through a plexiglass door at 9:26 a.m., the four dozen visitors in the area were ushered to safety by police officers disguised as cleaners and fellow visitors. Operation Merlin was already in full swing with police officers setting up a 100 metre exclusion zone around the Dome.
Detective Chief Superintendent Paul Armour, the officer in charge, told reporters, "The safest thing to do was let the thieves trap themselves inside the vaults where the gems were held. If we had moved against them earlier, we would have risked violent men, possibly armed, taking visitors hostage."
As well as officers inside and outside the Dome, the police presence included officers in a helicopter and River Police launches on the Thames. The idea behind the defensive operation, Chief Superintendent Armour said, was to bring to bear overwhelming force so that the raiders had no option but to surrender quietly.
Dame Alice Wrathe, chief executive of ANMD, said, "We have known about the threat for weeks, of course, and our immediate concern was the safety of the visiting public. We have been working closely with Scotland Yard and I have nothing but praise for the way the police officers did their duty."
Campbell McAllister, Prime Minister pro tem Angus McBlair's media guru, put out a lengthy press release which praised the police to the rooftops while listing the anti-crime initiatives which the McBlair administration has put in place. The sheer volume meant that most commentators chose not to wade through it to eliminate the spin and double-counting, and most just went with the obvious sound-bite on page one.
Sir Tom Todhunter, leader of the coalition which has bought the Dome, provided a slightly different view. He said, "The police told us that something was going on at the Dome but we chose not to press for specifics on security grounds. I'm as surprised as anyone at what happened."
All that the Dome's new operators have to worry about now is how to follow yesterday's free show!
filed by Jarvic Klute [firstname.lastname@example.org]
| The Millennium Star |