Were MI5 Spies Behind Britain’s $1.5M Baker Street Bank Robbery? 

Baker Street’s ‘Walkie-Talkie’ robbery was a bold $1.5m heist led by a former British soldier and inspired by The Red-Headed League, a Sherlock Holmes mystery involving a gang who tunnel into a bank vault. 

The explosive, real-life robbery took place in 1971 when Anthony Gavin’s crew burrowed 40 feet underground from the basement of a rented store and blasted their way into Lloyds’ subterranean bank vault at 185 Baker Street, London (only steps from Holmes’ 221B).

Unraveling the complex Lloyds heist would pose a three-pipe problem - even for a consulting detective - but the details of the Lloyds robbery are far from clear. Initially, the UK government gagged the media from reporting the heist, then Britain’s National Archives ordered the majority of the files sealed for 100 years until 2071 - an unusual step for a crime with no obvious link to national security.

Royals & spies

The 'Case of the Missing Lloyds Robbery Files' has led to fevered speculation that the London break-in was part of a carefully orchestrated diversion to detract attention from an even bigger operation. For decades, the whispers suggested the heist was an MI5-orchestrated plot to raid Lloyds’ security deposit boxes and recover compromising photos of a Royal Family member.

The flames of conspiracy were fanned by Jason Statham’s spy flick The Bank Job (2008) and again in 2023 with the re-enactment of the Lloyds heist for a crime series hosted by none other than 007 actor Pierce Brosnan.

“Gavin’s Holmes-inspired plan isn’t simple,” Brosnan explains. “He needs to map a tunnel path to a spot precisely below the vault. He needs experts with the right know-how to dig the tunnel. He needs someone smart enough to disable a series of sophisticated alarms. What he needs is… a team.” 

A highly sophisticated team at that. Lloyds Baker Street branch is the Fort Knox of London banks with a trembler alarm system to detect movement and two feet of steel-reinforced concrete separating the vault’s 1,000 security deposit boxes from robbers who’d need to spend months tunneling into the basement fortress.

Assembling the heist team

Anthony Gavin, the alleged mastermind, was no ordinary criminal though. Gavin, 38 at the time of the robbery, was a former British Army Royal Fusiliers’ soldier who was organized, resourceful, and skilled at teamwork. Putting together a crew for one of the greatest heists in history wouldn’t be difficult given Gavin’s training and contacts.

He recruited Reginald Tucker as his inside man, a ‘clean skin’ with no criminal record who could open a Lloyds bank account and rent a safety deposit box in a fake name. Tucker reportedly measured the area around the vault with his umbrella, calculating floor tiles, and mapping out the location of cabinets and furniture.

Sherlock Holmes: The Red-Headed League
Sherlock Holmes: The Red-Headed Man

Gavin’s silent partner - Benjamin Wolfe - rented the ‘Le Sac’ store with its convenient basement. Thomas Stephen, an unemployed car salesman, brought the tools. Micky ‘Skinny’ Gervais was the electronics expert brought in to disable the vault’s tremor alarms. Coincidentally, there were roadworks nearby on the weekend of the robbery, so the vault’s floor alarms were turned off to avoid false alarms.

Bobby Mills was ‘the lookout’, the man with the Walkie-Talkie positioned outside Lloyds who kept an eye out for Scotland Yard detectives or bank staff who might drop by unexpectedly. At least one person on Gavin’s team also had experience with explosives, as blasting in an underground tunnel is a flirtation with the afterlife.

The heist was set for the weekend of September 10, 1971 so the crooks had from Friday at 5 pm to Monday at exactly 10 am when the bank’s staff opened the vault.

Lloyds Baker Street Bank Robbery
Lloyds (far left) and Le Sac, a rented store with a basement for tunneling


Were MI5 Spies Behind Britain’s $1.5M Baker Street Bank Robbery? 

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Baker Street’s ‘Walkie-Talkie’ robbery was a bold $1.5m heist led by a former British soldier and inspired by The Red-Headed League, a Sherlock Holmes mystery involving a gang who tunnel into a bank vault. 

The explosive, real-life robbery took place in 1971 when Anthony Gavin’s crew burrowed 40 feet underground from the basement of a rented store and blasted their way into Lloyds’ subterranean bank vault at 185 Baker Street, London (only steps from Holmes’ 221B).

Unraveling the complex Lloyds heist would pose a three-pipe problem - even for a consulting detective - but the details of the Lloyds robbery are far from clear. Initially, the UK government gagged the media from reporting the heist, then Britain’s National Archives ordered the majority of the files sealed for 100 years until 2071 - an unusual step for a crime with no obvious link to national security.

Royals & spies

The 'Case of the Missing Lloyds Robbery Files' has led to fevered speculation that the London break-in was part of a carefully orchestrated diversion to detract attention from an even bigger operation. For decades, the whispers suggested the heist was an MI5-orchestrated plot to raid Lloyds’ security deposit boxes and recover compromising photos of a Royal Family member.

The flames of conspiracy were fanned by Jason Statham’s spy flick The Bank Job (2008) and again in 2023 with the re-enactment of the Lloyds heist for a crime series hosted by none other than 007 actor Pierce Brosnan.

“Gavin’s Holmes-inspired plan isn’t simple,” Brosnan explains. “He needs to map a tunnel path to a spot precisely below the vault. He needs experts with the right know-how to dig the tunnel. He needs someone smart enough to disable a series of sophisticated alarms. What he needs is… a team.” 

A highly sophisticated team at that. Lloyds Baker Street branch is the Fort Knox of London banks with a trembler alarm system to detect movement and two feet of steel-reinforced concrete separating the vault’s 1,000 security deposit boxes from robbers who’d need to spend months tunneling into the basement fortress.

Assembling the heist team

Anthony Gavin, the alleged mastermind, was no ordinary criminal though. Gavin, 38 at the time of the robbery, was a former British Army Royal Fusiliers’ soldier who was organized, resourceful, and skilled at teamwork. Putting together a crew for one of the greatest heists in history wouldn’t be difficult given Gavin’s training and contacts.

He recruited Reginald Tucker as his inside man, a ‘clean skin’ with no criminal record who could open a Lloyds bank account and rent a safety deposit box in a fake name. Tucker reportedly measured the area around the vault with his umbrella, calculating floor tiles, and mapping out the location of cabinets and furniture.

Sherlock Holmes: The Red-Headed League
Sherlock Holmes: The Red-Headed Man

Gavin’s silent partner - Benjamin Wolfe - rented the ‘Le Sac’ store with its convenient basement. Thomas Stephen, an unemployed car salesman, brought the tools. Micky ‘Skinny’ Gervais was the electronics expert brought in to disable the vault’s tremor alarms. Coincidentally, there were roadworks nearby on the weekend of the robbery, so the vault’s floor alarms were turned off to avoid false alarms.

Bobby Mills was ‘the lookout’, the man with the Walkie-Talkie positioned outside Lloyds who kept an eye out for Scotland Yard detectives or bank staff who might drop by unexpectedly. At least one person on Gavin’s team also had experience with explosives, as blasting in an underground tunnel is a flirtation with the afterlife.

The heist was set for the weekend of September 10, 1971 so the crooks had from Friday at 5 pm to Monday at exactly 10 am when the bank’s staff opened the vault.

Lloyds Baker Street Bank Robbery
Lloyds (far left) and Le Sac, a rented store with a basement for tunneling


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The heist & the vanishing suspects

Despite the smoke and debris stirred up by the explosion, Gavin’s team bagged cash and jewelry worth $1.5m (about $27m in today’s money) over the weekend and slipped away unnoticed. Curiously, an amateur radio enthusiast heard the crew’s Walkie-Talkie conversations that weekend, recorded their discussions, and called Scotland Yard while the heist was still in progress.

Somehow, the robbers still managed to pilfer the safety deposit boxes and escape. Another coincidence?

Not long after the break-in, Scotland Yard tracked down Wolfe, the silent partner who’d used his real name to sign the Le Sac lease. They kept watch on Wolfe, who eventually led police to three other men - Gavin, Stephen, and Tucker - who were sentenced to eight to 12 years in prison.

The rest of the crew simply vanished. Gervais, the alarms expert, was never seen again. Two of the suspects known as ‘Little Legs’ and ‘TH’ were never identified, leading some to wonder whether there were actually two robberies at Lloyds Baker Street branch that critical weekend in September 1971: one to target cash and jewels, the second for MI5 to rifle safety deposit boxes in an elaborate operation to salvage the Royal Family’s reputation.

The answer is buried in Britain’s National Archives, a secret hidden within the 800 pages of intelligence that will be released in 2071 - a century after memories of the Baker Street robbery have long since drifted into the mists of time.

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