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London Thieves Take Up To $300 Million In Gems In Easter Heist

In an elaborate crime that went undetected until Tuesday morning, thieves broke into a safe deposit center used by many jewelers. Here, a woman believed to be a police forensics officer emerges from the building.

In a complex crime that relied on a descent down an elevator shaft and on heavy cutting equipment, thieves made away with up to $300 million in gems and other valuables stolen from a secure facility where jewelry stores often stow their holdings. It could go down as the richest heist in Britain's history.

The crime targeted Hatton Garden Safe Deposit company, used by many firms in London's jewelry quarter to store their wares. Police say the thieves took advantage of the long holiday weekend to abseil down an elevator shaft and penetrate a series of fortified doors to reach a trove of deposit boxes.

The plundering wasn't reported until workers returned to Hatton Garden on Tuesday morning, after the Easter holiday. The thieves are believed to have accessed the building through the roof. An alarm reportedly went off on Friday, but it's not clear what, if any, action was taken.

Police haven't yet determined the full value of the stolen goods. The BBC quotes Roy Ramm, a former leader of the London police department's elite Flying Squad unit, as saying that he "would not be surprised" if the take was worth as much as 200 million pounds sterling (about $300 million).

"There's a sort of old-fashioned audacity about it," Ramm said.

Another former Flying Squad chief, Barry Phillips, tells Sky News that the high degree of organization and planning behind the crime makes him believe "the thieves will have placed all of the jewelry [with buyers] prior to the robbery."

The police haven't released many details about the case. In local reports, the number of boxes that were opened ranges from 70 to 300.

London's Evening Standard says the crime "could be Britain's biggest heist, potentially surpassing the £53 million stolen in 2006 from a Securitas depot in Tonbridge, Kent."

Forensic teams will spend at least two days going over the site for clues.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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