Yes, I did the crime and so yes, I suppose I should do the time. But, ten years? That’s a bit steep, even the screws think I’ve been hard done to. My brief is preparing an appeal against the sentencing, it should be ready for submission any day and I’m confident that after that my time will be cut. Maybe by half which in practice would mean I serve two and a half, especially on the back of good behavior. I’m just going to keep my head down and my nostrils perfectly clean, look after numero uno and then get out and back to planning my next job. Next time, I’ll work alone or at least with professionals who know what they’re doing, that is as long as my reputation hasn’t been too tarnished by the muppets who got us nicked last time out. The judge described it as a most comical attempt at robbery that had ever been brought before his court. He said, it was the most inept, amateur mish-mash, yes, he used those words, bloody ‘mish mash’ of a job in the recent history of criminality. Embarrassing it was, and then he gave me ten years as the ringleader. The gasp in the gallery was clearly audible alongside the sniggering and laughing that is. The other two got 6 years each and if I’d had been the judge, I’d have given them double or three times that, idiots. The driver got away scot-free of course as no one knew who he was and being pro’s, to a degree, we would never grass him up. It was his incompetence that was one of the reasons we got caught though and if I had my time again, I’d find someone more reliable. He’ll be paying for it when I get out, for sure he will.
It was my idea to turn over the bank, the little one just off the High St, and I’d got two guys who I knew quite well from the pub interested in helping me. They both came recommended as excellent ‘frighteners’; lads who were quite handy and looked fearsome. A bit slow in the brain area to be honest but all they had to do was threaten the bank staff sufficiently for them to let me through to the vaults and pick up the cash. It was going to be a big payday, I reckoned a quarter-million of which I’d get £100k and the other two and the driver, who we still had to find, would split £150k between them. If it was more or less, we’d work on that ratio and everyone was happy.
I met Ian and Dylan in the Red Lion one Wednesday evening after I’d discreetly sounded them out the week before. Ian was in his early 40’s, about 6ft 4 and heavyset, probably about 20 stone. He was nice enough when you’d got beyond his natural suspiciousness. Dylan was younger, mid 30’s, shorter at about 5ft 10 but he looked nasty. He had a sneer that could hurt you from across the road and when he spoke, he snarled and growled like a rabid dog. A bit intimidating to anyone who didn’t know him which fitted the bill perfectly. So, we got a drink and settled into a corner table in the pub so I could explain what the plan was. In hindsight, I should have cancelled the gig then. Not only were we on the pub’s CCTV, but we were also captured by the CCTV by the bus stop outside as well, both of which were used at the trial to prove we had some sort of relationship. Not only that, but about 6 people came over to the table during the night and had some form of interaction with Dylan; he was given cash for passing on to someone else, he was given cash for a job he’d done the day before, he was handed cocaine and cannabis for distribution to ‘dealers down the chain’ and almost everyone asked him what job we were planning. It was remarkable and to a large number of people in the pub, probably obvious that we were up to no good and sure enough, it turned out we had been seen! The cops had a statement from an anonymous grass who claimed to have seen us ‘colluding’ on that Wednesday night. When I look back, it was really a disaster waiting to happen.
Ian drank like a fish; he must have had eight points in the couple of hours we’d been there. That did worry me a bit, and I made a conscious effort to meet up with him again the day after to see what his hangover looked like. I must admit to being relieved and a little bit envious when he arrived for breakfast on time and as fresh as a daisy.
Both of them were up for the job though and very enthusiastic. I’d explained that they were to be aggressive, loud, and scary, no shooters or knives and that the aim was for me to gain access to the vaults where the cash was. When I was in there, they were to block entry into the bank by any customers and make sure the staff didn’t raise the alarm. It was easy and we’d do a few dry runs to get familiar with the layout of the bank (I already had a map of it) to check things like timings and work out which day and time of the week was the quietest in terms of customer visits. Ian in particular was very keen and a bit excitable. After breakfast, the day after we’d met in the pub, I and Ian decided to make our first visit to the bank. Now, remember this guy is a big unit and hard to miss. We walked the half-mile from the café and reached the junction on the High St and Bank Rd, yes it really is called that. We stopped across the road and surveyed the area for cameras. I asked him if he knew of any or could spot any and when I turned to look at him, I nearly fell over. He was gasping for breath, sweating profusely, massive sweat marks had appeared under his armpits and across his massive chest. His face was a pulsing mass of bulbous redness. He said, he was just a bit excited and this always happened when he was planning a job, but he’d be past it by the actual day. I should have stopped right there and then and to this day, I don’t know why I didn’t. Rather than carry on and enter the bank, I decided to call it a day and I left him recovering at the crossroads.
At the hearing, the CCTV showed him gasping for breath and clinging onto a lamppost and then being helped by a little old lady with a poodle, to the benches by the bus stop.
That afternoon, I arranged to meet Dylan outside the bank to do a reccy. He was bang on time which was good to see and dressed inconspicuously in combats and a denim jacket. On meeting, I said to him that the purpose of this visit was to get a clear view of the obstacles to getting behind the counter and into the corridor to the vaults and also to get familiar with the faces of the people. He seemed to get it and I entered first, with him following closely on my heels. I casually walked around the display shelves that offered help with savings and mortgages and that sort of stuff, pretending to look at the leaflets whilst getting my first look at the counter layout. As I’m looking at the end of the counter with the locked hatch that leads to the back office a voice shouted ‘excuse me, sir, can you remove the headwear’ I looked to where the voice was coming and one of the cashiers was stood up pointing, not aggressively, at Dylan. I turned to see him standing there in a black balaclava, staring up at the ceiling into the CCTV camera.
In court, that scene brought one of the biggest laughs of the whole hearing. The recording shows me leaving the branch quickly, grabbing Dylan by the arm as I went.
Outside, around the corner, after he’d removed the balaclava, he said he was only trying to be professional and didn’t want his face to be seen. After I’d bollocked him and told him he wasn’t Butch Cassidy I expected a smack, but he just looked a bit forlorn and apologised. One thing I’ve learned about this type of ‘co-worker’ is that they do respect authority and the boss is always the boss. Until it all goes tits up that is.
We had another meeting one night a few days later in Mcdonalds’. We were the only ones sat in and left relatively alone. One of the staff recognised Dylan though, and kept trying to speak with him; turns out he wanted a job and hoped Dylan could find him something. He was an ex-con who was out under license, his probation officer knew the franchisee of the restaurant and got him a placement. He was clearly out of place though, being mid 30’s, with a wild crop of long dark hair and unkempt beard whilst everyone else in the place was teenage or early 20’s. I was a bit irked at first but then I thought this bloke might be ok as a getaway driver and after we’d finished planning our next visits to the bank, I invited him over. He had a full license and had worked as a driver before. I offered him a role at a 10% cut of the purse, I’d split the rest between me and the other boys. He accepted and we agreed to meet the following Monday, I decided to keep any dealings with him separate from the other two for security reasons; I thought it better we weren’t all seen together.
So, me, Ian, and Dylan met outside the bank each morning of the next week just after 9 am. We sat at the bench on the bus stop and watched, figuring out that Wednesday or Thursday would be the quietest time for the bank’s business in terms of footfall and we just had to agree when specifically on those days we would put our plan into action. After a few hours of counting people going in and out and me doing a five bar gate on a pad, we noted that it was fairly quiet after 10:30 am up until about 11:45, and after discussing it in detail, on the Friday morning, we agreed that was sufficient planning and data gathering, and so, that was that. During our reconnaissance though, Ian was like a kid, pointing at people as they walked in and again when they came out, standing up, sitting down, he just couldn’t settle. And again, sweating like a pig, he was soaking after an hour.
In court, the CCTV showed the three of us sat there over the course of the week, like the three stooges, arguing, looking at our watches, me making notes, and gesticulating at Ian to sit down and be quiet. The gallery laughed, a lot.
During that week, I think it was Wednesday, we decided to go into the bank again to get a closer look at the mechanism for opening the counter. Without headgear! It was mid-morning after our daily bench meeting and we all went in all-together; Ian tripped over the step which made everyone stop and look at him…and us. He recovered without going to the ground luckily and managed to get upright and into the queue without too much extra fuss. Dylan somehow got to the front of the queue; I say ‘somehow’; he did what he usually did and just went there knowing no one was going to challenge him and then he got called to the counter by one of the staff. My heart skipped a beat as I didn’t know what he was going to do next, we hadn’t discussed it as this was a passing-through visit to gather information on the layout. But Dylan played a blinder, he asked, albeit in his aggressive growl, how he could open an account. The guy serving him was clearly a little bit intimidated but left his place, went to the end of the counter, unlocked it with a key that was dangling on a chain attached to the lift board, came through, and guided Dylan to a small room that I hadn’t noticed before. I got a full demo of how the hatch operated and where the key was! He sat in that room for 10 minutes going through an application form before coming out with a big grin on his face. During that time, I had enough time to glance beyond the counter to clearly see where the entrance to the vaults was and Ian had got a leaflet about a pension scheme. We all exited at the same time and had a debrief in the café up the road. We got there with Ian about to collapse from nervous exhaustion, again, covered in sweat and with his face glowing like the embers of a fire at midnight. We each had a coffee and patted ourselves on the back for a job well done. We’d leave it a week and then do the job the following Wednesday. I’d see our driver on Monday and get him ready for the pickup and drop-off.
In court, the CCTV footage showed Ian’s comedy trip entrance, Dylan freely giving his name, address, postcode, and phone numbers to the guy in the bank whilst I was peering into the corridor of the bank behind the counter. Even my brief sniggered.
On Monday, I met with Dean who insisted on being called Deano, at Mcdonalds’ as we’d agreed but as he was working the conversation didn’t go quite as smoothly as I had expected. I was nervous that unlike our earlier meeting the restaurant had more than half the tables occupied and Deano seemed to be attending to most of them. I thought this was a self-service place, but he seemed to be popping around the large majority clearing up and talking to the diners. It took about 20 minutes for me to realise he was dealing drugs; the ‘customers’ were buying a drink, sitting at a table, Deano appeared took their ‘order’, moved away from a cup which obviously had cash in it, disappeared for a few minutes before returning with small parcels that he dropped into one of the remaining cups and the ‘customer’ left. Ingenious really but annoying for me as I needed to get him concentrating on our plan. He took a break and came over with a coffee. I asked him what he was dealing, and was surprised when he didn’t deny it. He quite openly told me that he could get anything I wanted, most of it was already here on site. He spent half his break time telling me about the varied customers he had, from magistrates and police to doctors, teachers, and mums. This is another time when I really should have backed away, but I felt he was good, and we were too far into things to safely change the plan. It was straightforward anyway. We would make our own way to the bank, do the job, and as we exited he was to be outside the door with an untraceable car ready to take us to a lockup garage that was owned by my uncle. My uncle was on holiday and I had the key. We would split the money there and go our separate ways. I said we’d need him to be immediately outside the door at 10:40 am which gave us 10 minutes inside with an allowance of another 5 – 10 minutes contingency time. He was comfortable in getting the car, he already had one lined up, a silver 3 series BMW and we were both very clear on what was happening and when. I actually left with a nice warm feeling, knowing that the plan was coming together.
I confirmed the arrangement with Ian and Dylan, and we all agreed that we wouldn’t see each other or contact each other before we met outside the bank next Wednesday morning.
I then got three text messages from Ian confirming if it was ok that his nephew was dropping him off near the bank, he knew that Id bollocked Dylan for wearing a balaclava but was it ok to wear one on the day, and finally where was the lock-up and was it close to a bus stop. In the end, I had to go to his house and tell him to stop contacting me on his phone, indeed stop contacting me full stop.
Dylan then sent me a message on Facebook saying he needed to speak urgently. Yes, public, traceable, the police’s favourite tool, Facebook! So, I went to his house and he also wanted to know if he could wear his balaclava this time. I did shout a bit, to be honest, and as I walked away, steaming mad I thought about cancelling the job. But I didn’t.
I went to see Deano on the following Tuesday, conscious that I’d not been in touch for a week and I thought it best that I check for my own sense of well-being that he still knew what he was doing. I found him good spirits but even busier as it seemed he’d been promoted and was now a team leader looking after a group of spotty youths. I wondered what hope they had in life but then who am I to judge. Being busy with ordering his team about, clearing up, and dishing out drugs, our conversation was limited but he did confirm that he had taken time off tomorrow and was eager to go. The car was running perfectly and had a full tank and he grinned when he told me that he’d easily out-run the police if needed. That made me a little bit edgy as I wasn’t expecting any reason to deviate from the plan to get to the lockup, but I figured or hoped, he was just playing. Anyway, he seemed confident enough and so I was happy and returned home where I had something to eat and went to bed. Not that I slept much, the plan was running over and over in my head, and the excitement of counting the money and then getting away from it all for a few weeks. That was my plan. I was going to run to Spain and rent a little apartment just outside Barcelona. Who knows, I might have stayed longer…
On the day of the job, I arrived first and had my two holdalls, one inside the other, which were to carry the loot away with. I sat on the bench watching the traffic and the odd person enter and leave the bank branch. It was a nice morning, the sun was up, it was warm and there was a nice gentle breeze. Dylan arrived next, he was relaxed and appeared happy, for him. He sat next to me without saying a word and we just waited for Ian. And we waited and waited. Dylan remarked that Ian had obviously bottled it and wasn’t coming but I didn’t agree. I thought I’d give him another 5 minutes before deciding what to do but then just as we were thinking that he’d changed his mind, Ian appeared calm as you like, in a taxi. He jumped out of the black cab waving at us and shuffling up to the bus stop. I’d never seen him looking so calm and as he sat down, he apologised for being a bit late and swung a rucksack off his shoulder offering it to me for carrying the cash. We sat for a minute then off we went; I stood, and they followed me across the road. They had both put their balaclavas on by the time we’d got to the other side and I pulled on a hat and scarf over my nose and mouth. ‘Ready boys’ I shouted and off we launched into the bank. I went in first, Dylan pushing me aside as I got through the door, shouting, and kicking over the displays getting to the counter he started banging wildly on the glass divider. As all this started, Ian tripped over the step and hit the ground with a huge thump. He hit his head on the display cabinet that Dylan had kicked over, and he just lay there sparking out. Before I got to the opening in the counter, the alarm went off and every one of the staff disappeared behind a darkened security wall. I glanced out of the window for a quick second and realised that I couldn’t see our silver 3 series BMW and with a sense of impending doom, I stepped over Ian and shouted to Dylan that he might want to get out…quickly. I stooped and rolled Ian over just as he was coming around, he had no idea where he was or what he was doing but he managed to get up to his feet just as the first police officers entered.
It was a total shambles and over within 5 minutes. It turned out that they were waiting for us; the bank manager recognised us as we sat on the bench opposite and called the police as he’d been instructed to do the previous week having reported his suspicions following our visit. The cops were heavy-handed and roughed us up a bit before slapping on the cuffs and literally throwing us into the waiting cars. They booked us in and kept us in individual cells before carting us off to the magistrates the following morning where we were put on remand pending a court date.
As I look back, I recognise that I had many opportunities to call it off and should have. The team I had was just not up to the job and the whole project was bound to fail. Anyways, lessons learned I’ll be much better prepared next time. Do you know what the worse thing about the whole sorry tale was though? It was the driver; I didn’t really know him and chose him as an easy option which was the wrong thing to do. As we were bundled into the cars and driven away from Bank Rd we came to the junction and stopped at the red traffic lights at Bank Crescent where there is a big bank on the corner. It takes up nearly the whole terrace with its floor-to-ceiling glass windows, giving an excellent view of the goings-on inside. As I sat in the back of the car surveying the scene I noticed a fracas going on between a traffic warden and the driver of a silver 3 series BMW that was parked on the double yellow lines outside the bank. The driver was dressed in a Mcdonalds uniform complete with a 5-star name badge. As we pulled away, that driver and I made eye contact and I cursed the day I’d ever met Dean.
C H Elton is the pen name of Steve Chelton who lives with his wife in Newton Le Willows. They have 5 children between them and at present, 3 grandchildren. Steve has been a self-employed consultant working in the UK Insurance industry for several years but is currently not working because of the impact COVID-19 has had across the industry.