I Was a Diamond Thief
HATTON GARDEN, London’s busy diamond district, is a very risky place for criminal activity. Cameras are situated high above the street, allowing the police to keep the whole area under constant surveillance. Yet, in spite of that, an accomplice and I, hiding guns and ammonia sprays, went there in June 1973 for just such a purpose. He was dressed as a businessman, and I had on the white coat of a diamond cutter’s apprentice.
We planned the robbery very carefully, paying close attention to timing and a quick getaway. Then, on the appointed day, we followed our victim from the vaults where he had collected his diamonds. He was carrying at least a million pounds’ ($1,774,000, U.S.) worth in two briefcases. We struck him down, wrenched the cases away from him and made off in a waiting car. It was all over in seconds.
After a few blocks we changed cars and drove out of London to hide the loot until the commotion had subsided. Then we flew to Spain for a week or so, using false passports. On our return we retrieved the diamonds and put them in a bank deposit box in the name of an acquaintance who had no police record. But the fact that we had been seen in this man’s company reached the ears of the gangster who had put us onto the job in the first place. Obviously, it had never been his intention that we should keep the diamonds. So under intimidation the boxholder handed them over to him. My mate and I never saw those gems again.
This diamond job was the culmination of seven years of criminal experience and training. I was only 16 years old when I first got into serious trouble for stabbing a man in a fight. Since I was a first offender, the magistrates let me off with a fine and a stern warning, but that did not deter me. After that I was always in and out of trouble with the police.
Eighteen months after the stabbing, I was involved in a gang fight in which a man was killed. We were charged with murder but got off because it could not be established just who had actually killed him. However, I was sent to Borstal (a prison for young offenders). Before the diamond job, I had served three terms of imprisonment and was fined or put on probation many times. It was all a game in which, as professional criminals say, “You win some and you lose some.”
Diamonds or “Pearls”—Which Would It Be?
Back in England after the diamond robbery I was, of course, high on the police “Wanted” list. So I found lodgings on a quiet street on the outskirts of London, well away from my home and former haunts. The lady of the house, I later found out, was having a weekly Bible study with Jehovah’s Witnesses, a people I had never heard of. She told me about them, but I could not be bothered. I still had my criminal friends, was dealing in drugs, gambling and drinking heavily. But hardly a day went by without her saying something about the Bible.
One day she invited me to meet the two Witnesses who came to conduct the study. At first I was suspicious of them and had planned my escape route over the back fence and across the railway tracks—just in case! Later I secretly sat outside the room and listened to what was said. Gradually my interest was aroused and I agreed to my landlady’s conducting a similar study with me. Her “pearls” of Bible wisdom began to take effect. My thirst for the knowledge of God and his Kingdom grew rapidly. Soon I was having a study three times a day.
My kind landlady, though not yet a baptized Witness, was attending meetings at the local Kingdom Hall (meeting place of Jehovah’s Witnesses). Frequently she invited me to come, and at last I went to see what it was like. To say the least, I was greatly surprised. It was not a bit dull or boring, as I had expected. The warmth and love, so evident, were obviously genuine. And the appreciation all of them seemed to have for spiritual things was outstanding. So I attended regularly. I was now convinced that I had found the truth. I wanted to be one of these people; to share their confidence, joy and hope; to develop a relationship with Jehovah as they had.
Confess to the Police?
Now it was beginning to dawn on me that I would have to get my life in order. My conscience told me that I should give myself up to the police and take the consequences, however severe. The thought was frightening, for I knew it could mean prison for up to 15 years. On top of that I would have to endure the scorn and ridicule of those of my former friends who were already serving sentences for other crimes. But there was no other way. As a first step, costly though it was, I got rid of the drugs and waived the debts owed me from my previous illicit activities.
Before going to the police I wanted very much to see my mother and tell her all about my decision and the reason for it. I was very fond of her. She had tried hard to steer us children away from crime, but we all ignored her advice and, while still in our teens, had prison records. It was heartbreaking for her to have one son or another in prison virtually all the time. But she stuck by us through all of it.
My brother drove me home to see her. It was a risky trip, for the police kept an eye on our home in case I should make a visit. My intention was to give myself up when I had settled my affairs but not let them catch me first. So I had to be careful. I squeezed myself into the floor space of the little car and reached home safely. My mother was delighted that my criminal days were over and that I had found something solid and worthy on which to build the rest of my life. I was still only 24. I did what I could during the brief visit to tell her about God’s Kingdom, not realizing at the time that it would be my only opportunity. While I was in prison, she died.
Police Reaction to My Confession
In January 1974, accompanied by a solicitor and my brother, I went to the police. When I told the desk sergeant that I was Alfred Scully, he just stared at me as though he could not believe his ears. They had been searching for me for six months!
During the next few days I was questioned for hours, for they still had not recovered the diamonds. They were very suspicious of my motive for giving myself up. Their philosophy, no doubt born of long experience, is: once a villain, always a villain. When I tried to tell them of my changed outlook on life, they just laughed at me. I was remanded in custody to Brixton prison until the trial six months later.
My knowledge of the Bible was as yet quite elementary as I had been reading it for only two months. Now, with plenty of time on my hands, I set about digging deeper into it with the help of all the Witness literature I could get. My friends from the Kingdom Hall kept me well supplied with reading matter, and as the weeks went by I grew spiritually stronger.
On June 3, 1974, the case came to trial. One of the elders from the Kingdom Hall spoke up for me and so did my landlady’s father who is a voluntary social worker with special concern for ex-offenders. The judge considered their commendation, the fact that I had surrendered myself and my motive for doing so. He was very lenient with me. Instead of a long sentence, he made it five years. I was greatly relieved. With remission for good behaviour and the possibility of probation, I could be free in three years. I would use that time to continue my Bible study and spread the good news to any hearing ears I could reach in the prison.
Sharing “Pearls” in Prison
My first prison was Wormwood Scrubs in western London. The overcrowded and uncomfortable conditions were somewhat compensated for by the fact that as I was in London, my Witness friends could easily come to see me. And they did, I am thankful to say. At the Scrubs we were confined to the cells for 23 hours a day. Here I found out how sustaining silent prayer can be.
During the hour of exercise each day, I tried sharing my Bible “pearls” with other prisoners, searching for any who wanted to know more. My former criminal friends, observing this, would jeer at me. About six months later I was transferred to a high-security prison at Maidstone, Kent, and was eventually assigned to take care of the library. Not only was that a pleasant job but it brought me into contact with most of the prisoners and so afforded me opportunities to speak about my beliefs. And I had some success, for after their release at least two of the prisoners were eventually baptized.
Easy to Go Straight?
Throughout my imprisonment the Witnesses visited me regularly and they continued to help me after my release. Three months later, at a convention in London, I was baptized in symbol of the dedication to Jehovah that I had made long before in prison. Now, six years later, I am a happily married man with two children and a good job.
The change in my outlook on life was not easy to make. Apart from fighting, the hardest physical work I had ever done was washing my car. Now I had to settle down to working eight hours a day and helping with the chores at home. I had never bothered about routine in my life. Now an orderly way of life was important. I had always proudly scorned discipline of any kind. Now it was necessary to accept the fact that my way might not always be right. I had always had plenty of money. Now I needed to be careful with my wages to provide for a family.
I do not pretend that it has been easy. But certainly it has been worthwhile. The love of my wife, responsibility for my children, the kindness of my employer, the support of my Christian brothers—all of these have helped to make the transition possible. And above all, so did Jehovah, through his Word, the Bible, and by answering my prayers.
All of this has made me so very grateful. I have escaped from a senseless life of crime and violence and have learned how to be really happy. When I look back, the past seems so empty and fruitless. How true the words of the Bible: “Wisdom and knowledge are riches that save, the fear of Yahweh is his treasure”! Yes, a treasure, pearls of wisdom far more valuable than any stolen diamonds! (Isaiah 33:6, The Jerusalem Bible.)—As told by Alfred Scully.
[Picture on page 16]
Alfred Scully’s 1975 prison photograph
[Picture on page 18]
Alfred Scully with his wife and children today