Eastcastle Street Robbery: The Unsolved Crime

Archivist Helen investigates a robbery from the Post Office mail van worth £7.3 million in London's Eastcastle Street.

While the Great Train Robbery is notorious, it was not the first time a vehicle carrying the mail had been targeted.

Black and white photographs of male face on and in profile

Police photograph of William Hill (POST 120/93)

In the early hours of the morning of 21 May 1952 a mail van transporting High Value Packets (HVP) from Paddington railway station to the Eastern Central District Office, was ambushed in Eastcastle Street in central London.

The van was on a diversion from its usual route due to roadworks taking place in Oxford Street. As it passed along Eastcastle Street a car pulled out in front of the mail van and another vehicle pulled up behind it blocking its movement. The driver, guard and sorter were all forcibly removed from the van which was driven away and abandoned in nearby Augustus Street.

Street map of the central London area with red biro markings indicating the location of the robbery

Map showing the location of the robbery (POST 120/88)

A total of £236, 748 10s (worth £7.3 million today) was stolen. As with the Great Train Robbery, there was initially suspected that a member of Post Office staff may have been involved.

Staff on board the mail van at the time of the robbery came under particular scrutiny. There were a few factors which increased these suspicions. The van was fitted with an ambush alarm, but this was not used during the raid. When the van was recovered it was discovered that the alarm was deactivated.

Another incriminating factor was that proper processes for handling of the keys had not been followed. The driver should have handed them to the guard for safekeeping but had instead left them on the seat of the van. These oversights, together with the fact that the driver did not sustain serious injuries in the attack, all raised questions.

small exercise book with columns showing date, number of padlock or keys, and signatures of staff. The last entry is 21 May 1952

Logbook showing staff signing out keys to the mail van, 21 May 1952.

As well as examining the potential role of staff on the mail van itself, investigators considered whether any other postal staff could be involved. Known criminals were also investigated. These included William (Billy) Hill who was described as ‘brutal in the extreme’.

Black and white photographs of male face on and in profile

Police photograph of William Hill (POST 120/93)

The detailed observation was carried out on suspects including their connections and criminal history. Some of the criminals involved in the Great Train Robbery are believed to have also been connected to the Eastcastle Street robbery.

In recent years the daughter of Terence Hogan has spoken publicly about his connections to both the Eastcastle Street robbery, and his association with Bruce Reynolds who was convicted of the Great Train Robbery.

In July 1952 Robert Kingshott (who had previously been dismissed from the Post Office for theft) and Edward Noble went on trial for receiving money stolen in the raid. After the extensive debate, the jury found them both not guilty.

A typescript page headed thefts from the post

Controller’s report into Kingshott and Noble as suspects for handling money stolen in the robbery (POST 120/93)

In the aftermath of the robbery, there was a detailed discussion of whether the security on mail vans was adequate. Various suggestions were put forward to increase the security, including the provision of police escorts, heavy wire cages bolted to the floor of the van, and a device to allow the driver to immobilise the vehicle. However, police escorts were regarded as impractical given the pressure on police numbers more generally.

typewritten paragraph stating that ‘persons capable of carrying out audacious robberies such as the recent heavy mail van robbery must be credited with intelligence and imagination

Police Officer’s report outlining possible security improvements for mail vans (POST 120/93)

It was also clear that the success of these suggestions would be dependent on staff following procedures correctly which was not always the case:

‘numerous crimes investigated by the Investigation Branch have been successfully carried out because, and only because, supervising officers have failed to ensure that rules and regulations have been obeyed.

Whatever protective or preventative measures are suggested in the matter of HVP Mail Vans, none will be of the slightest use unless supervising officers ensure that they are carried out.’


Almost 68 years after the robbery, and despite the detailed work of the Post Office Investigations Department, the crime remains unsolved.

Learn more about the work of the Post Office Investigation Department in our temporary exhibition The Great Train Robbery: Crime and the Post. You can also consult original files relating to the robbery in the Discovery Room.

– Helen Dafter, Archivist