It was in the early hours of Thursday 8th August 1963, that the nightly mail train from Scotland to London was stopped with a false red signal on an overhead gantry at Sears Crossing in Buckinghamshire. It was so called because a narrow country lane (Sears Lane) passed under the express line at that point. The lane was rarely used during the day and not at all during the night. A team of masked men wielding iron bars boarded the train and overcame the driver Jack Mills, whilst others disconnected the first coach (which contained sacks of money to the tune of two and a half million pounds), from the rest of the train where post office sorters were busy with mail from Scotland to England. The robbers own driver then discovered that he could not drive that particular type of Diesel express, and Jack Mills was forced to drive it forward, but only after being beaten badly. Telephone wires had been cut in both directions. Mr Mills was forced to drive to another crossing at Bridego Bridge, and to stop on top, when he was tied up.
The thieves carried the enormous amount of sacks of money to a lorry waiting below, and two cars. They then drove along hardly ever used country lanes to their hideout some twenty miles away at Leatherslade Farm. They had bought the isolated farm in preparation some six months previously. It transpired later that in case they had been seen that night, the lorry had been previously stolen, and painted the same colour as the lorries of a local firm.
At the time I was a mere PC on the Flying Squad at Scotland Yard, one of the ten men on Detective Inspector Frank Williams team. Our Superintendent was Tommy Butler, and of those two men, whom I have the highest respect for, must go the credit for the successful result.
Within days, our Chief Superintendent Ernie Millen was made Deputy Commander, and Tommy Butler promoted to Chief Superintendent. Before passing on, I must mention that Ernie Millen passed me in Birchington High Street, as an old retired gent in his eighties, and seizing me by the arm he said with obvious pleasure, "You were one of my boys at the yard. Its Len Hynds, isn't it?" It was quite obvious that the robbers who had carried it out like a military operation came from London and we expected to be asked to start the investigation, but it was several days, before we could start officially. We already had a list of probables', and started our own enquiries, and of that list of a probable 200 we slowly whittled it down, but the robbers eventually caught were all on that remaining list.
There have been several claims to the finding of the hideout, but the truth is that a herdsman tending his cattle a few fields away, noticed the cars in that isolated spot, and phoned Buckinghamshire police. A sergeant and PC went to investigate but the birds had flown.
Our people went there, and our forensic people took fingerprints, footprints and photographs of everything. In the meanwhile I was on observation of the home of Gordon Goody, in an observation van parked nearby. His home had been visited, and they had been told he was on a working holiday with the forestry commission, and couldn't be traced. That first night I searched his dustbin and found a pair of shoes wrapped in newspaper. There were still traces of yellow paint in the seams. I took them back to the yard, but unfortunately the paint did not match that on the lorry.
A few days later I drove Tommy Butler and Mr Nicholson, the Forensic Chief to the farm, where the forensic people were still hard at it. I wandered to a newly built garage, quite large, where the stolen lorry had been found. It had no door, just sacking, was brick built, and a pile of sand and pebbles were outside, obviously used for the concrete flooring. I went inside, and the ballast was on the floor. I scraped it with my foot, and the concrete floor was underneath. I told my boss, and Mr Nicholson himself carefully removed every bit of ballast from that floor, and lo and behold, it had been used to soak up a tin of yellow paint that had been knocked over on the floor. That paint matched Gordon Goody's shoes!
Before we left, Tommy had me up one of the apple trees throwing down the most succulent apples he was taking back to his boys at the yard.