Fact vs Fiction: The Gold — did the Brink's-Mat robbers get caught?

Hugh Bonneville and Charlie Spencer are among the stars of The Gold but did the Brink's-Mat robbers get caught?
BBC true crime drama The Gold boasts an all-star cast (Image credit: BBC/Tannadice Pictures/Sally Mais)

Sunday nights are about to get exciting again thanks to new BBC One crime drama The Gold

The highly-anticipated series is based on the biggest gold theft in British history —the Brink's Mat robbery. It tells the story of how, in November 1983, a gang of armed men attempted to steal foreign currency from a security depot near Heathrow airport and ended up making off with £26 million in gold bullion.

The slick six parter, which boasts an all-star cast including Hugh Bonneville, Jack Lowden and Dominic Cooper, also explores the after-effects of the 'crime of the century', and the impact it had not only in the London underworld, but around the globe.

But how much of The Gold is based on the truth? And did the thieves ever get their comeuppance? Here is everything you need to know...

The Gold on BBC1.

The Brink's-Mat robbers made off with £26 million worth of gold bullion. (Image credit: BBC)

What happened during the Brink's-Mat robbery?

The infamous Brink's-Mat robbery occurred on November 26, 1983 and at its time was the biggest theft in global history.

That morning, at 6.40 am, a gang of six armed robbers broke into the Brink's-Mat warehouse, which was situated on the Heathrow International Trading Estate in West London.

The thieves gained entry to the warehouse through corrupt security guard Anthony Black and forced terrified staff to reveal the code to the vault.

Their original plan was to snatch three million's worth of pesetas, but what the gang discovered was three long tons of gold bullion, property of Johnson Matthey Bankers. In total, the men made their getaway with £26 million worth of gold, un-cut diamonds and money.

The heist became a seminal event in British criminal history and set off a decades-long chain of events.

Is The Gold based on a true story?

Yes, absolutely. The Gold has been inspired by extensive research and interviews carried out with some of the individuals involved in the events surrounding the real-life Brink's-Matt bullion heist. 

The drama doesn't just focus on the events of that fateful November morning, it also explores what happened after the gang made their getaway. 

The Gold creator Neil Forsyth and show researcher, Thomas Turner, worked through 40 years worth of criminal trials, police interviews, media archives and unpublished records to ensure viewers had an accurate version of events. Forsyth also met in person with Brian Boyce (played by Hugh Bonneville in the series), a former Chief Superintendent who was the head of  Scotland Yard's task force investigating the robbery. 

Sharing his experience in The Times he revealed: "I spoke to others from both sides of the law, tracked down for us all over the world by a private investigator. Some were happy to be acknowledged and some weren't, but taken together these first-hand interviews offered invaluable dramatic insight."

How accurate is The Gold TV series?

Although The Gold is based on a real-life crime, as always with a drama adaptation there are a few changes in the story for the TV series. At the very start of the season it was announced: "Some characters and elements have been created or changed for dramatic purposes" and it has been confirmed that some of the characters' names have been changed. 

Hugh Bonneville on the case in The Gold.

Hugh Bonneville plays real-life Chief Superintendent Brian Boyce. (Image credit: BBC/Tannadice Pictures/Sally Mais)

Are the characters based on real-life people?

Yes and no. The cast for The Gold is a rather dazzling one — made up of big names from stage and screen.

It's headed up by Downton Abbey's Hugh Bonneville, who plays Brian Boyce, the top Met detective who led the investigation into the robbery. Although now retired, Boyce provided the show's creative team with a fascinating insight into his experience working on the case. 

On hand to help Boyce is eager young detective, Nicki Jennings, played by Sanditon's Charlotte, aka Charlie Spencer. According to the BBC, Nicki Jennings is based on a number of women in the police at the time... "There were actually lots of women in the Flying Squad because, as women, they were least suspected when on surveillance."

Slow Horses' actor Jack Lowden portrays London criminal Kenneth Noye, who was enlisted by the robbers to help with the disposal of the bullion. While Mamma Mia! star Dominic Cooper takes on the part of (fictional) dodgy solicitor and businessman, Edwyn Cooper, who became mixed up in the whole saga.

Dominic Cooper in The Gold.

Dominic Cooper stars in the drama as dodgy solicitor Edwyn Cooper. But he's not a real-life person. (Image credit: BBC/Tannadice Pictures/Sally Mais)

What happened to the stolen gold?

According to detectives at the time, the Brink's-Mat heist was just supposed to be "a typical Old Kent Road armed robbery". It was never the gang's intention to find millions of pounds worth of gold bullion inside the Brink's-Mat depot.

After making off with the eye-wateringly expensive swag, the thieves then faced the difficult task of disposing of it.

So how was it done? The answer to that question is still not fully known.

One of the robbers, Micky McAvoy, entrusted his share to associates Brian Perry and George Francis. The pair recruited criminal Kenneth Noye, an expert in his field, who melted down the stolen gold, recast it for sale and mixed it in copper coins to disguise its origins.

The majority of the 6,800 bars of gold taken that day have never been recovered. In 1996, it was estimated half of the precious metal, had made its way into the legitimate gold market. 

It has also been claimed that any gold jewellery purchased in the UK after 1983, probably contains traces of the Brink's-Mat loot.

Melting gold after the 1983 robbery.

The robbers enlisted the help of specialist criminals to melt the stolen gold.  (Image credit: BBC/Tannadice Pictures/Sally Mais)

Did the robbers get away with the crime?

Yes and no.

The gang of six clearly planned their raid with great care, and despite not realising what was inside the vault, managed to flee the scene with 76 boxes packed full of gold bars. 

Each member, as well as the criminals they called upon to turn the bullion into cash, is believed to have profited from the heist. 

What happened to the Brinks mat robbers?

Two of the thieves, Micky McAvoy and Brian Robinson, were eventually brought to justice and both sentenced to 25 years in prison. A third, Antony White, was initially cleared due to a lack of evidence, but later jailed for his part in a drug-smuggling ring.

Kenneth Noye, was informed upon, and confronted by undercover officer DC John Fordham, who he shot dead in his garden. Incredibly, Noye was found not guilty for the killing, but was given 14 years inside for his role in covering up the heist.

It's estimated up to 15 people were involved in planning and executing the Brink's-Mat robbery, but now nearly 30 years on, the majority of those individuals have simply got away with it.

Hugh Bonneville and Charlie Spencer are among the stars of The Gold.

Scotland Yard worked tirelessly to try and bring the criminals to justice. (Image credit: BBC/Tannadice Pictures/Sally Mais)

What impact did the heist have on the world?

As the synopsis for The Gold states: "The disposal of the bullion caused the birth of large-scale international money laundering, provided the dirty money that helped fuel the London Docklands property boom, united blue and white collar criminals and left controversy and murder in its wake."

In September 1984, less than a year after the Brink's-Mat robbery, the banking and gold-trading arm of Johnson Matthey collapsed. Losses amounted to over US$300 million, and the fraud squad was called in to investigate unexplained gaps in the company's records.

And then there's the so-called "Curse of the Brink's-Mat millions", which refers to a number of violent shooting deaths. These victims were members of the London criminal underworld and allegedly involved in the laundering of the gold. This series of gruesome deaths continued until 2015.

The Gold is a six-part drama that starts in the UK on BBC One on Sunday, February 12 at 9pm — episodes run weekly on Sundays. It will also be released as a box set on BBCiPlayer.

Laura Morgan
Freelance writer

Laura has been a journalist for over a decade, writing about soaps, TV entertainment, fashion, beauty, and food. After graduating from university, she started her career working at a national soap and TV magazine. During her seven-year stint there she joined the cast of Emmerdale for a tour around the famous village, partied with soap stars at awards bashes, interviewed her acting idol David Suchet, and sat in the front row of Strictly Come Dancing

Her heart lies with the soaps, and her all-time favourite character has to be EastEnders' Pat Butcher - no one rocked a big earring quite like her. She's also a huge fan of detective crime dramas, particularly old school Inspector Morse, Endeavour, and adaptations of Agatha Christie's Marple and Poirot. When she's not writing, she loves a spot of second-hand shopping and going on adventures with her young son.