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Six members of an organised criminal gang that staged a million pound gold and silver bullion heist in Belgium were jailed for more than 23 years today.
The Old Bailey heard how the meticulously planned 'inside job' first came to light when Brian Mulcahy, 46, an international lorry driver from Essex, was found locked in his firm's bullion security van, claiming to have been the victim of a vicious armed robbery in Wetteren, Belgium.
What followed was a lengthy investigation by the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) Special Projects Team who worked closely with Europol and the Belgian police in Antwerp to unravel the intricate plot which involved a team of seven criminals.
The Only Way Is Essex sisters Sam and Billie Faiers wrote to a judge today to try to save their stepfather from prison.
But their plea did not stop an Old Bailey judge jailing David Chatwood for the equivalent of four years.
He pleaded guilty to conspiracy to steal £1 million-worth of gold and silver bullion from a lorry in Belgium in October last year.
Judge Richard Hone said he had read a letter from Chatwood, 58, and "also a letter from his daughters who find him helpful in their shops".
But this would not alter his sentence because Chatwood was a principal organiser of the theft.The boutique-owning television sisters, along with Sam's boyfriend Joey Essex, waved from the public gallery with their mother Sue Wells as Chatwood was led away.
Detective Superintendent Stephen Ratcliffe said this was "a gang of experienced criminals who had been the subject of an investigation by the special projects team at the Metropolitan Police for a couple of months before this robbery."
The court was told Brian Mulcahay was discovered by police locked in his vehicle in Belgium on October 4 after ringing his employers to say he had been robbed.
Chatwood was seen to contact some of the other accused conspirators four days later at a Harvester restaurant in Dartford, Kent.
Nine days after the robbery, most of the bullion was discovered in an apartment and a hotel room in Antwerp which had been rented by Stanley Rose.
The robbers were captured within days and had been unaware that they had been watched by police as they hatched their plot.
Each defendant played a different role in the plot. Lorry driver Brian Mulcahay was the inside man.
Mulcahay, 46, of Grosvenor Road, Westcliff-on-Sea, Chatwood, of Sawyers Grove, and Stanley Rose, 75, of Iver, Pilgrims Hatch, both of Brentwood, and David Gale, 55, of Hansells Mead, Harlow, and Gary Cummings, 51, of Anne Way, Ilford, all Essex, pleaded guilty.
John Corley, 53, of Tankerton Road, Whitstable, Kent, was found guilty after a trial.
A seventh man, Matthew Middleton, 42, of Crows Road, Epping, Essex, also pleaded guilty and will be sentenced at a later date.
The Faiers sisters had been due to give evidence at Corley's trial but were not called.
The Only Way Is Essex sisters Sam and Billie Faiers were at the Old Bailey today to see their step-father sentenced for a daring £1 million bullion heist.
Sam's boyfriend Joey Essex, who is also a star of the television show Towie, held her hand in the public gallery.
The court was packed with family and friends of David Chatwood and five other men who all face jail for the plot.
Chatwood, 58, is behind bars already because he was recalled from licence having been given a 12-year sentence in 2001 for drug supply and firearms offences.
The six defendants, mainly middle-aged men from Essex, were being sentenced for conspiracy to steal after a British lorry carrying gold and silver bullion was robbed in a fake hold-up in Belgium in October, last year.