Diamonds and Valuables 'Worth Millions' Stolen in London Safety Deposit Vault Heist

Jewel thieves reportedly stole many millions of pounds of diamonds and jewelry in a daring raid on a large vault in the heart of London's historic Hatton Garden diamond district over the long Easter weekend.

Among the most valuable items feared to have been stolen is a diamond worth £500,000 (around $700,000).

The gang cut through the roof, abseiled down a lift shaft and used heavy cutting equipment to reach their target, according to reports in the UK media. It is believed that the thieves started the operation last Thursday night right after workers had left for the long weekend, thus giving them four days to break into 300 of the 600 safe deposit boxes kept in the vault.

The huge theft at the Hatton Garden Safe Deposit Ltd, a short distance from the London Diamond Bourse, was only discovered when staff arrived for work on Tuesday. Jewelers, who often keep their gems in the safes during long weekends, fear a large amount of diamonds, watches and cash were stolen.

Police are investigating how the thieves managed to disable the state-of-the -art alarm system, leaving them free to work undisturbed.

"If the thieves have got into 300 boxes then they will have certainly plundered millions and millions," a source told the Daily Mail. One customer said he had more than 40 years of stock in the vault.

There have been two previous raids on jewelry vaults in Hatton Garden. In 1975, armed robbers targeted the Hatton Garden Safe Deposit Co. The gang threatened staff before escaping with an estimated £1.5 million ($2.2 million) in jewels and other valuables.

Cash and valuables worth an estimated £1.5 million ($2.2 million) were stolen in 2003 after a suspect emptied safety deposit boxes at the same vault while posing as a customer.

One jeweler who rents a safe deposit box said an alarm at the building went off on Good Friday at 1pm. Norman Bean, who stores around £35,000 ($50,000) worth of jewelry in his safe, told the newspaper: "On Friday one of the security guards turned up and he looked in through the door and couldn't hear anything so thought it was okay and left. It's an absolute disgrace. They could have been in there then. I have been told that they got through the lift shaft and they knocked the wall down and took the CCTV cameras off the wall.

"We don't know what's been taken but the total could be from £1 million to £10 million, maybe more. It could end up being one of the biggest robberies in London."

The gang cut through two rows of metal security bars before disabling the alarm on the vault's main door, a source claimed. They then used heavy cutting equipment to get through the 18in metal door.

Diamond jewelry expert Lewis Malka was cited as saying: "Most of the people who have got safety deposits there are people in the trade. I know for a fact that some of my work colleagues have got boxes down there and we are talking about hundreds and hundreds of thousands of pounds in goods." Earlier Malka Tweeted: "Quiet day in the office and then I find out one of my client's antique bracelets was stolen in the Hatton Garden robbery."

Another man who gave his name as Muhammed, 27, and who works at a family jewelers in Hatton Garden, said he would find out on Wednesday if his box had been stolen. "We have two generations worth of gold, diamonds and jewels in a box in Hatton Garden Safe Deposit. We won't know until tomorrow whether it's gone or not. It would be devastating if we lose it, the end of so much work, it could ruin us. I had hundreds of thousands in there. It's insured but some of it is very rare and I won't be able to replace it."

Jewellery designer Thelma West said: "Robbery at one of the biggest safe deposits in Hatton Garden over the Easter weekend. The loss is HUGE." She added: "A lot of jewellers & dealers put their stock in safe deposits over holiday periods. Easter & Pesach meant very quiet Hatton Garden."

Jewelers who use safety deposit boxes often don't have their stock insured and may have lost millions of pounds in the Easter weekend raid, the Mail reported. And it may be difficult for detectives to put an exact value on what has been stolen due to the secretive nature of what is kept in safety deposit boxes.