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My Blog


Blog for May

Posted on 18 June, 2021 at 0:20

I used to like Tin-Tin, and still do. I think the latest animation is fantastic. Tin-Tin’s mate, Captain Haddock, had a fantastic array of sayings and curses, so let’s kick off this report with a “Blistering Barnacles!”

I would also add that this month’s report is a cracker. Take my advice, make a cup of tea, help yourself to a chocolate hob-nob and put your feet up for a good old yarn.

I think that Captain Haddock’s opening is completely appropriate for the course of my travels in May as I spent a week training on the coast at Worthing. Well, what can I say, except to be honest and brutal, What a dump.

In contrast to the town, the company I spent time with training was top notch and had obviously invested profits back into the business to create a vibrant and successful organisation along with buildings that were a joy to work in.

Worthing though remains a dump. And it’s not just the local council that’s at fault, you can see all around the result of lack of investment, lack of care and in general lack of brain cells. There is very little incentive for tourists to visit the town as the whole area looks like 1950’s bombed-out Britain. Even the big wheel on the front needs a coat of paint. And then to add insult to injury they can’t resist ripping you off wherever possible. Reminds me why we stopped having holidays in this country a long time ago – holiday in the UK? I’d rather put up a tent in the garden.

So let’s see where Ted has been in May; I had three days in Horsham, a week in sodding Worthing and four days in Essex. And those sort of hours suit me down to the ground. I am supposed to be semi-retired but I do enjoy my consultancy and training operations. I’m not quite ready to just spend my days gardening.

What I would like to do is spend more time in Spain, and not just drinking myself to death. We have already explored quite a lot of Espania and intend to explore a lot more yet.

For the month of June I am back in my own backyard running an Inspection and Testing course at Witney and a few other missions scattered throughout the month.

I always find it interesting how we find a “niche” in our working life. For instance one of my colleagues works with Theatre Electricians, another within the railway industry and so on.

Now, although I run courses for the electrical installation industry with Inspect & Test and 18th Edition etc, my particular niche these days seems to have fallen into industrial maintenance and fault-finding.

However, as my regular readers will know, a large part of my working life was in the intruder alarm business, until my wife became ill and I needed to take a job nearer to home and hospitals. So this is a subject that is still close to my heart. I’m not allowed to tell you the names of the groups that were trying to extract cash from UK plc in my time but for a large part of the 1970’s and 80’s I spent fighting the efforts of such groups and it really was a continual battle.

For example, we discovered certain people were injecting expanding foam into external alarm sounders to silence them so we designed a “Paddle” switch to operate if somebody tried this trick that would set off the alarm instantly. We filled alarm systems with all sorts of sensors; thermal, motion, magnetic microwave, sonic, capacitance and many more. And I’m pleased to say that we beat the bad guys, mostly. But the moral of the story is that every system will have a weakness. And if you are prepared to invest in time and resources to study a system you may well discover a weakness you can exploit.

So whilst we are on the subject of alarm systems, lets go to Antwerp in Belgium 2003 and explore what could possibly have been the biggest heist in European history.

Now here’s the thing, if you are going to knock over a bank, not that I would recommend it of course, go for the safe deposit boxes. Safe deposit boxes are where people keep their secrets - gold bars, jewellery of all sorts, bearer bonds, blackmail material, anything. Nobody checks.

Well it just so happens that there is a pretty big safe deposit box vault underneath the Diamond Centre in Antwerp. It also happens that the worlds biggest gateway for diamonds is in Antwerp. This is where deals are done and fortunes are made. So that vault must be pretty handy for popping a few diamonds into occasionally.

Next enter an Italian gang known as “The School of Turin” who had a reputation for ingenious robberies, they also had a principle that nobody should be seriously injured in the course of their activities (so a bit Robin Hood like). To cut to the chase I am going to have to summarise like this: what looks like the ringleader (a Mr Notarbartolo) moves into an office over the Diamond Centre and spends the best part of two years conducting a fake diamond business from there.

In the course of that time he purchased a deposit box in the vault and was subsequently allowed access to the vault where he was able to observe the security measures in place. He also befriended staff and fellow customers alike. This was definitely a long-play job.

Eventually the gang struck and like all good operations they chose diversion as their friend.

Friday the 14th of February 2003 (Valentines Day, is a big thing in Belgium) falling on a Friday followed by a boozy weekend.

By defeating numerous systems, procuring keys and somehow cracking the million-digit combination of the vault door along with what seems like a generous dollop of good luck they pull it off.

To this day nobody knows quite how much they got away with but it has been estimated a minimum of $M150, of which very little has been recovered. The gang managed to escape across several borders and made their getaway.

Now comes the odd bit. The following day a park ranger on the French/Belgium border discovers the remains of dumped litter and a small fire. Amongst this debris are a few diamonds and a receipt linking back to our guy who rented the office above the diamond centre. Furthermore, one of the few safe deposit boxes not broken into belonged to guess who? Mr Notarbartolo!

Mr Notarbartolo is pretty quickly picked up back in Italy along with a couple of other gang members. A few thousand dollars’ worth of goods are recovered, but yet again, not many depositors are willing to actually reveal their losses. Mr Notarbartolo eventually serves ten in jail and Antwerp begins to forget about this adventure.

But, there are a few riddles left to be solved. Firstly, is the combination to the vault door. Unlike the rest of the alarm system This could NOT be bypassed, somebody had to give this up, whoever this was has not been determined.

Secondly, and sticking out like a sore thumb, would you think an operation so carefully planned would leave the key player exposed to take the fall? This guy spent two years scoping the job out, I would have thought that in that time he would have also planned a perfect escape.

Although if you think about it he got ten years and probably got away with at least ten million dollars. I’ll declare right now, if anybody wants a patsy for a heist, I will take a few years in clink at that rate (although I would have to insist on cast-iron underpants for the showers).

I’m inclined to think somebody else was bankrolling the operation (its called “seed money”) and came out of it completely untainted, or Notarbartolo decided to sacrifice himself from the start to avoid being on the run forever. I also think whoever gave away the combination of the vault has a nice villa in Montenegro or somewhere similar tucked away for their retirement.

Now then, although this may all be very entertaining, there is also a principle in electrical engineering and a lesson to be learnt from all this: No system is perfect. The world and life is not perfect. Systems do have flaws and systems do break down, the right approach is not to be too cocky from the outset. Like saying “this ship is unsinkable”.

Rather start your design, no matter what system, saying “what if?”

So that brings us to the end of Edward’s report (sounds posh) for May, hopefully we may finally get to see those long summer days sitting in the garden with a few glasses of Vino Blanco and reflecting on life in general.

I’ll drink to that.

Happy trails folks, until we meet again.

Adios mi Amigos y Amigas.



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