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Amateur Radio and The Walkie Talkie Bank Job

Written by Amine

In today’s age of mobile communication, it is often difficult to remember that radio communication between two parties is not private. Every radio amateur knows this, but in 1971 some bank robbers didn’t quite get the idea, so when Robert Rowland, an amateur radio enthusiast from central London, sat down with his radio and a nice cup of tea. Saturday night he heard a much more interesting conversation than he expected. We know this because he recorded much of what he heard and dug up the tapes in 2008 to film the event. At that time the crime became known as the ‘Walkie Talkie Robbery’, the movie is called ‘The Bank Job’.

When Rowland first heard the robbers’ conversation, he thought they were robbing a tobacconist and called the local police. They seemed to find Mr. Rowlands more amusing than important when they suggested that if he heard any more “funny voices” he would tape them. An angry Mr. Rowland did just that, using the tape recorder he was using to learn Spanish.

Eventually a local constable came but was soon called away. Mr. Rowland called the police again, but finally, irritated by their lack of response and the apparent robbery continuing on the radio, he called Scotland Yard, the headquarters of London’s Metropolitan Police.

Two plainclothes officers arrived at Rowland’s 4th floor flat in London’s Wimpole Street and sat with Rowland all night listening to the burglars. In the morning, two more officers arrived and listened to Sunday’s developments, but a police check of local banks showed nothing unusual (from the outside) On Monday morning, when staff arrived at Lloyd’s bank in London’s Bakers Street (not far from the flat of the famous fictional detective Sherlock Holmes) they found that most of the safes had been emptied by robbers who dug a tunnel from a nearby store and made their way through the floor to the bank vault.

So far it sounds like a tale of ineptitude. Rowlands knew that for his walkie-talkie to pick up such a strong signal, the robbery had to have taken place within a 1.5-mile radius, the robbery had begun on Saturday night and continued throughout Sunday—certainly enough time for the authorities to find the culprits.

The story made headlines and then stopped abruptly. Scotland Yard collected the tapes and reporters were warned off when they tried to question Mr Rowland. Then the police actually threatened to prosecute Rowland for listening to an unlicensed radio station.

No one knows exactly what happened, the four robbers were caught and imprisoned, but the stolen money and other items were never recovered, and since they were safety deposit boxes, no one knows exactly what was stolen. And therein lies the mystery. Over the following years, there were many scandals involving high-ranking members of the police force, with one safe deposit box rumored to contain compromising photos of a member of the British royal family, while others contained evidence of police corruption at the highest levels. which resulted in a flurry of prosecutions and resignations in the late 1970s.

With the release of the film, several British newspapers sought out Mr. Rowland, the amateur radio enthusiast who recorded the interview. He said the tapes were returned to him six years after the robbery. The Daily Mail also reported that it spoke to one of the actual robbers, who declined to comment on the photos of any royals, but said the robbers were disgusted to find a number of disturbing pornographic images in the boxes they left behind. the police were able to track down the owner.

And it all goes to show that when you settle down with your radio, you never know who you’ll talk to or what you’ll hear, which is one of the reasons why amateur radio is still such a fascinating and absorbing hobby.

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