A book about the £53 million pound Securitas robbery has just been published and a film is due to hit the screens, so get on the heist trail in Kent and explore the locations where the crime unfolded
To anyone living nearby, the multi-million pound raid on the Securitas depot in Tonbridge couldn't have been more unexpected. This is Darling Buds of May country and nothing much ever happens here.
Not much until the winter of 2006 anyway, when it was thrown into the police and media spotlight for something much more sinister than Pop Larkin. Now a book about the 53 million pound raid has been published. Heist: The Inside Story of the World's Biggest Robbery will then be followed by a Hollywood film. So as they hit the screens and bookshelves it’s worth making a Kentish escape and exploring the areas where so much drama and mystery unfolded.
The cash depot - Tonbridge
On the evening of the 21st of February, 2006, a gang of robbers armed themselves with guns and began what turned out to be the largest cash heist in history. The story started in the Securitas depot in Tonbridge – but widened out across west Kent.
Tonbridge is a historic market town and in early 2006, little attention was paid to the unmarked building on a sprawling industrial estate to the east of the town run by global security firm, Securitas. But the nondescript brown building on Vale Road is now famous for being the centre of the heist. If you stay at The Langley hotel just on the edge of Tonbridge, a two minute walk to the high street takes you past the town's 11th century Norman castle and Vale Road. Rooms start from £39 a night. But even nearer is the 16th century Tudor coaching inn, The Rose and Crown. Use them as a base to explore the castle and the 16th century Tonbridge School, where Jane Austen’s father once taught. Nearby are Penshurst Place and Vineyards and Hever Castle, the childhood home of Anne Boleyn.
At around 5:30pm the manager of the depot, Colin Dixon, left work and started on his drive home. He stopped at the village of Wrotham Heath for petrol and then continued on his way. Wrotham is a picturesque village near Tonbridge and Sevenoaks. Stop for a pint at The Royal Oak pub and take a look at its toll gate which was used as a toll house until the latter part of the twentieth century.
As Mr Dixon drove along the A249 near Stockbury he was pulled over by a car with blue flashing lights, where two bogus police officers bundled him into the back of another car, where he was handcuffed and driven away at speed towards Tonbridge.
At about 7pm the car stopped at Mereworth where Mr Dixon was then bundled into a white Transit van. The village of Mereworth lies in the Medway Valley between Maidstone and Tonbridge and was long associated with hop growing. Stop here to admire the Italian style castle and St Lawrence Church - a handsome classical building with an eye-catching steeple. There are also many other listed buildings and the former coaching inn The Queens Head offers B&B accommodation. Stay here and use it as a base for some great country walks.
If you cross over Seven Mile Lane from Mereworth you’ll find the village of West Peckham. Here you can watch cricket from the Swan-on-the-Green. The 16th century pub serves great food from locally produced ingredients and brews beers in its own micro-brewery. Try the Rumpeter cask-conditioned ale or the Black Swan Stout for something a little different. (www.swan-on-the-green.co.uk)
Also nearby is the town of West Malling. A former home of Radio 2 DJ Chris Evans, West Malling also boasts plenty of historic buildings, including the Norman keep and St. Leonard’s Tower. But it’s now arguably more famous for its Michelin listed brasserie, The Swan (www.theswanwestmalling.co.uk), which recently became runner up in Gordon Ramsey’s F word for best local British restaurant.
The isolated farm - the rendezvous
Mr Dixon's family had also been kidnapped and had told detectives they were held captive at a farm. Almost a week later, a major breakthrough was made as police officers swarmed around the remote Elderden Farm just north of Staplehurst.
Elderden Farm sits in an isolated location with only a few other farmhouses and the Lord Raglan, nearby. Stop at the little white clapboarded pub for its good value comfort food served with a pint of Maidstone-brewed Goacher's light ale and contemplate just what went on nearby. Or on a sunny day, relax in its orchard garden and try the high octane locally-made Double Vision.
Staplehurst itself had a colourful history before its links with the raid. In the 1500s, Queen Mary's regime saw three local women burnt at the stake for being Protestants. A granite memorial to these Marian Martyrs survives at Cuckold's Corner. It was also the scene of a dreadful train crash involving Charles Dickens in 1865. Heroically, the author helped injured passengers to safety despite his shock when the train's first six carriages careered off a bridge: he was in the seventh carriage. Other familiar faces now often use the station - people like Ian Hislop from Have I Got News for You, who lives in nearby Sissinghurst, or The Thick of It’s Chris Langham who lives in Cranbrook. The prettiest area of Staplehurst is at All Saints, a hilltop church that has some of the oldest ironwork in England. Stay nearby at The Bell Inn or just stop by for a pint of Westerham Finchcocks or Grasshopper.
Nearby Cranbrook is the capital of the Kentish Weald, and looks much as it has done for centuries: a peaceful small town of weather-boarded houses, surrounded by orchards and farmland. It’s a good base to explore local attractions like Sissinghurst and Scotney Castle, Bewl Water, the Kent and East Sussex Railway, Bedgebury National Pinetum or the Hop Farm at Paddock Wood. Stay at Cranbrook’s 14th century boutique hotel, The George Hotel in Stone Street then head down the road to the Michelin stared Apicus for a meal cooked by Tim Johnson, the former private chef to Paul Getty Jr. (www.restaurant-apicius.co.uk). Named after the Roman epicurean Marcus Gavius Apicius, the restaurant only has seven tables and the food is perfect for modern epicures: the menu is short (just five choices per course), elegant and sprinkled with premium ingredients, including the likes of lobster, foie gras and guinea fowl…and the stilton ice cream mustn’t be missed! Where possible, the produce is local - amazing, then, that the prices are set at £26.50 for three courses.
Abandoned vehicles and money
Another village linked with the raid that’s worth a visit is Leeds, near Maidstone, where police found the burnt out Volvo used to kidnap Colin Dixon. Here take a trip around Leeds Castle then stop at the 16th century Cock Inn in nearby Boughton Monchelsea – a pub famous for appearing in the film Hearts & Coronets starring Sir Alec Guinness.
The raid of the depot itself took just 66 minutes and authorities have vowed to continue searching for the outstanding millions after police only found about £21 million of the stolen haul. The rest is believed to have been smuggled abroad. But you never know what you may find whilst on the heist trail….