From the outside the Co-Op building in Maryland Street, Stratford, east London, looked unremarkable. There was no sign that deep in the basement lay a strong-room packed with a king’s ransom of cash and other valuables.
The Co-Op vault was far from a secret to the scores of big-time villains who inhabited the East End. In fact, in 1967 many of the 600 locked steel boxes were rented by criminals: it was the ideal hiding place for stolen cash, jewellery, bullion, and guns. And it was free from the prying eyes of the police and the tax man, who at that time had no power to scan bank records or search security boxes.