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November 23, 2002

Lip reader helps jail 'amateurish' gang for £2.9m Heathrow heist

From: Guardian, UK
Nov. 23, 2002

Hadley Freeman
The Guardian

A gang behind a £2.9m heist at Heathrow airport were jailed yesterday for a total of 25 and a half years with the help of a 20-year-old lip reader.

Four men were convicted yesterday at Kingston crown court in Surrey for theft, and another for handling stolen goods from two consignments of foreign currency stolen from a South Africa Airways 747 jet in March. Judge Kenneth MacRae described their raid as "amateurish" and "a totally unsophisticated enterprise".

The court was told that the men were filmed talking about the heist and that they did not know what to do with the more obscure currencies. Police have recovered a large part of the money, but over £269,000 is still missing.

A part-time security guard, Sundeep Sidhu, 22, who had volunteered to help unload high value cases from the 747 which had arrived from Johannesburg told police that two Asian men had been hiding in the back of the van. They forced him to drive out of the airport and they then fled with the money.

The raid was a huge embarrassment for Heathrow officials, who had promised that airport security had been tightened after the hijackings on September 11 last year.

But the raid was an inside job, carried out by Sidhu who enlisted the help of his brother, Harjit Sidhu, 25, and three other men, Anil Parmar, 37, Manish Bhadresa, 23, and Harbhajan Padda, 33.

Police quickly became suspicious of Sidhu's tale and mounted a heavy surveillance operation. They compiled over 20 videos of the men talking about the money which they gave to deaf lip-reader, 20-year-old Jessica Rees, to interpret.

Ms Rees, who was described by a detective as "our secret weapon", was able to work out almost every word the gang members said.

In one, Sidhu talked of his plans to go to Hawaii and bragged that the police "had not sussed anything" and that "they've got no evidence", as undercover policemen filmed from a few yards away. Police also mixed with worshippers at an Indian festival in Southall and filmed the men discussing how to change the money into American dollars.

The money was recovered in 16 different addresses across London. All men pleaded guilty to the charges. Sundeep Sidhu was jailed for five and a half years. The others were each jailed for five years.

Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2002