Bedminster, The Brinks Mat Robbery and a World First in Money Laundering — Part One

The full story of Bedminster and the Brinks Mat robbery is in our walking tour BLOOD AND BUTCHERY IN BEDMINSTER — weekly from in 16 February 2023. You’ll see Palmer’s business premises, the bank where millions were handed over the counter and the pub Palmer bought and converted to celebrate his success.

Meanwhile The Story of John Palmer is the new GANGSTER podcast on BBC Sounds. Presenter Livvy Haydock came to Bedminster to record the tour, which features in the six part series. You can listen to the trailer on BBC Sounds.

And now read part one of some of the extraordinary local history featured in our BLOOD AND BUTCHERY IN BEDMINSTER theatre walk.

Forty years ago the biggest heist in British history happened – and Bedminster was up to its neck in it.

On 26 November 1983 a gang of six villains, cunningly disguised as security guards, broke into the Brinks Mat security warehouse near Heathrow Airport. They’d heard there was three million in cash stored there — and they wanted it. These were very nasty men indeed: they tied up the real guards, soaked them in petrol and started striking matches. If they didn’t reveal the combinations, the gang said, they’d burn the guards alive.

When the gang saw what was inside the Brinks Mat Warehouse, they were as shocked as the guards. Very little—cash that is. Nothing like the three million they were after. Instead they found something else. Something they never dreamed of. GOLD. Six thousand eight hundred gold bars. They’d hit the jackpot. It took them two hours to get it all out, but they managed it, and then they escaped in their battered transit van — with the chassis scraping along the ground — it weighed three and a half tons by then. In 1983 that gold was worth 26 million. Today’s estimated value is one hundred million.

Meanwhile, in Bedminster, ‘businessman’ John Palmer was going quietly about his business. Palmer was a bullion dealer whose career portfolio included market trader, car dealer, high end scrap metal merchant, jeweler, fraudulent mortgage and timeshare vendor – and gangster. In 1983 his modest bullion dealing premises were above a shop on North Street, Bedminster (now in very different hands).

Two of the six strong Brinks Mat gang — which didn’t include John Palmer — were nicked very quickly. Mickey ‘The Nutter’ McAvoy, and Brian ‘The Colonel’ Robinson each got 25 years inside, leaving a lot of gold to be managed on the outside. At which point enter John ‘Goldfinger’ Palmer with his smelter, and Kenneth ‘Kenny’ Noye to manage it and shift it all down here to the West Country. The smelting was done at Palmer’s mansion outside Bath, with many local residents wondering why the Bath night sky glowed red for weeks. After they’d suitably disguised the loot, the gang sold it on.

And this is where Bedminster really enters the history books. A recent BBC press release put it like this, “The disposal of the bullion caused the birth of large-scale international money laundering.” And yes, it all began right here.

Thirteen million pounds — fifty million today — from the Brinks Mat robbery was laundered through a Bedminster bank. One cash withdrawal alone was £348,000; a million in 3 weeks; a total of 10 million, in cash, withdrawn in a year — the equivalent of 40 million today. And the bank was fine about it; didn’t turn a hair when John Palmer stuffed vast amounts of cash into a holdall and strolled out onto the Bedminster streets. To be continued…