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

THE GOLD, starts Sunday 12 February 2023 at 9pm

‘THE CRIME OF THE CENTURY — the Brink’s-Mat robbery — was forty years ago this year, and the story is part of our walking tour BLOOD AND BUTCHERY IN BEDMINSTER. People who do the tour contribute fascinating glimpses and snippets, like the person who knew John ‘Goldfinger’ Palmer when he was moving the money around. ‘We thought he was mad, walking down East Street with a million pounds in cash in a holdall, but that’s the sort of thing he did.’

John Palmer wasn’t involved in the original heist, but brought in later to smelt the £26,000,000 million in gold bars stolen by the gang in November 1863. Never convicted of any Brinks Mat offence, Palmer continued building his business empire, eventually owning 122 companies and 60 offshore bank accounts. At the peak of his career John Palmer reached number 105 in the Sunday Times Rich List. Joint 105 with Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. And his Bedminster empire included the pub opposite his business premises – renamed LIQUID ASSETS.

There’ve been at least twenty – some say thirty – violent deaths linked to the heist, the most remarkable being the murder of John Palmer himself in 2015 – still unsolved and with all the hallmarks of a contract killing. The two masterminds who each served nearly twenty years behind bars, Brian Robinson and Micky McAvoy, both died recently after long illnesses – Robinson in 2021 and McAvoy on New Years Eve 2022. And it’s said that by the time they were released from prison, there was nothing left. They planned it, stole it, served life sentences – and got nothing at the end of it. All that money had simply vanished.

Kenneth Noye, who delivered the gold to the West County for smelting (and a lot more) – initially fared much better. Soon after the robbery DC John Fordham, an undercover police officer who was keeping him under surveillance, was hiding in the grounds of Noye’s mansion. When Noye’s Rottweilers attacked him, Noyce appeared with a pitchfork and stabbed Fordham to death. He pleaded self-defense at his trial and was acquitted. The following year Noye was sentenced to fourteen years on Brinks Mat charges. Soon after his release, he killed a man in a road rage attack and fled to Spain. Eventually extradited, he was convicted and got life. Noye was released in 2019.

Forty years after the original heist the story is still making headlines, and fascinating contributions are still coming in from people who do the tour. One woman said that when she bought a house in Bristol and looked at the deeds, she recognized the name of a previous owner as somebody with strong links to the missing money. The cash, and maybe even some gold, was believed to have been stashed all over the place, so she and her husband dug up the whole of their back garden in the hope of finding some of the loot. Nothing doing. And a retired detective stole the show one evening by describing what – and who – he’d seen when keeping Palmer’s Bedminster premises under surveillance. There are glimpses of John Palmer, too, from those who knew him in the 80s. ‘Just an ordinary bloke really, very unassuming, always bought his round.’

BBC 1’s major new 6 part drama series THE GOLD, telling the BRINKS MAT story, launches 9pm on Sunday 12 February, directed by the ‘brilliant Aneil Karia fresh from his Oscar win and starring Hugh Bonneville.

And meanwhile GANGSTER THE STORY OF JOHN PALMER is available now on BBC Sounds – with our tour featuring in Parts 1 and 2 – more info here »

The Brinks Mat robbery — and other amazing local stories — is in BLOOD AND BUTCHERY IN BEDMINSTER, back on the streets from 16 February 2023. Details/tickets »


And SAINTS AND SINNERS IN ST GEORGE is back in May 2023.