Examples of the Safe-Blowers work


James McMenamin – Wholesale Jewellers – Glasgow – 5th June 1908

This is the only recorded safe-blowing where gunpowder was used. The safe is a Milner List 2 quality. Although only a fire-safe, the value of contents lost was £3,000. As Milner safes had been fitted with ‘powder-proof ‘locks since 1845, the only means of introducing gunpowder was by drilling a hole through the door plate and pouring it into the chamber.

It appears that the safe had been dropped on its back when the charge was detonated and with the bulk of the powder in the top end of the chamber, the result was that the 16 or so screws fastening the chamber sheared off, leaving the distorted remains of the embedded in the frame. The most likely candidate for this would have been “Scotch Jimmy” who was particularly active around this time.

He was known to carry an assortment of tools which would have allowed him to prise the distorted chamber from the opening. The lock is still intact in the middle of the back of the door.


Greenock Cooperative Society Grocery - 1950’s Ratner Grade 3

This was the typical crime scene after the fingerprint squad had finished with their forensic examination. As happened in such locations, the safe had been covered with material to hand in order to help muffle the sound of the explosion – in this instance – sacks of rice.

Having been disturbed in the act, the safe was left with the lock packed with gelignite and the detonator in place. The close-up above shows the detonator lead wires coming from the packed keyhole (escutcheon removed). The detonator was carefully withdrawn in case it was distorted, and the gelignite extracted with the probe seen lying on top of the door. The lock was then flushed out with carbon tetrachloride until such time as the key could safely be inserted into the lock and turned carefully to unlock. The mechanism was then stripped and cleaned and the safe returned to normal use.

Edwards Jewellers – St.Vincent Street, Glasgow.
June 1964. Jewellery loss estimated £80,000

Apart from the size of the loss, this was a most unusual safe-breaking in that three different methods of attack were applied to the safe. The large double-door Hobbs Hart sat on a hoist which allowed the jewellery to be taken in and out for display on shop floor level at start and finish of the business day, but was otherwise lowered into the basement to leave the shop floor unobstructed.

It was therefore clearly visible at night situated as it was between the two glass shop doors. The thieves however managed to lower the safe into the basement where they could work undisturbed. They first attempted to cut through the lower ¾ of the right hand door with an oxy-acetylene torch. Due to lack of skill they did not penetrate the full door thickness which comprised two ½” steel plates riveted together. They then attempted to cut out the lower of the two keylocks, but for the same reason as before they failed.

They then applied a thermic lance which produced the enlarged hole below the lock, and through this an extremely large charge of explosives was detonated, the force of which separated the laminated plates ofthe right hand door and all the angle bar frame which had formed the lockcase. A very well planned and executed robbery with little left to chance. As for the safes contents it is doubtful if the Rolex watches survived intact.

The thermic lance was assembled on site from sections carried in a golf bag. A very similar type of attack was carried out on the basement strongroom door of the British Linen Bank in the same street the following year using only thermic lances.


Ratner Grade 1 Fire Resisting Quality – Scene and Date unknown

This is an example of a reasonably well executed but failed attempt to blow open a book safe. The charge has removed most of the keylock, the remains of which can be seen still attached to the back of the door plate.

With a slightly lesser charge the fire-resisting chamber housing the boltwork would have remained fixed to the door and the bolts withdrawn using the external handle.

However the force of the explosion has caused the four front edge retaining screws to shear with the result that the chamber became lodged within the door opening at its leading edge and any attempt to pull on the door would only cause it to jam more tightly.

This is a result of the door geometry, which being hinged on an external pivot, requires that internal components have to swing in a slight arc to the left before passing clear.

The reddish powder is sawdust and alum packing from the ruptured fire-resisting chamber.

 Construction and  Destruction
 The Explosives
 Some Examples
 Four Petermen
 The Author