Read an Excerpt from Heist, by Howard Sounes

A roofer, a car salesman, and an MMA fighter walk into a cash depot...

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Heist, by Howard Sounes, tells the story of an unlikely gang of misfits who pulled off one of the biggest cash robberies in history. In February of 2006, £53 million—the equivalent of $92 million USD at the time—was stolen from a warehouse belonging to Securitas cash depot in Tonbridge, Kent.  

The elaborate crime involved a kidnapping, prosthetic disguises, and 14 depot workers tied up at gunpoint. The crew of the seven individuals responsible included gang members, a car salesman, a roofer, a cage fighter, and even an accomplished MMA fighter named Lee Murray. 

Such is the basis for Catching Lightning, a new show by Showtime which tells Murray’s story in his own words. Involving interviews with his close family members and friends, Catching Lightning is sure to be a wild ride as it examines this daring crime from a new level and imparts never-before-known information. 

We suggest reading Heist so that you have the full picture before watching Catching Lightning.  Continue reading to discover an excerpt from the novel, which will give you a preview of Sounes’ captivating writing and the thrilling twists and turns in store for you in the rest of the book!





By Howard Sounes

Chapter One



As he warmed up in the ring at the Circus Tavern Nite Club, Lea Rusha harboured a secret. He was planning the world’s biggest robbery. But first he had this fight to win. The Master of Ceremonies, Phil ‘Boo’ Walker, introduced Lea and his opponent, ‘the warriors’ as he called them, for the final fight of the evening. As he did so, MC Walker urged the audience to make some noise. ‘If you are ready for the fight let me hear you go BOO!’ the MC encouraged the crowd, mostly family and friends of the fighters.

‘BOO!’ they boomed back from tables around the ring, positioned close enough to the ropes to be showered with spittle, sweat and blood during the battle. It was a male audience primarily, a few wives and girlfriends perched on their partners’ knees, drink glittering in their eyes at this late stage in the evening. Almost everybody had a pint in hand, and a fag on the go. Chicken and chip dinners, at £3 a head, had been consumed, the paper plates used as ashtrays. The carpet underfoot was sticky with spilt drinks.

The Circus Tavern, located on a dismal stretch of road approaching the northern entrance to the Dartford Tunnel, in Essex, has long been a cheap and cheerful fun house for the working class of east London. It boasts of being ‘the home of world darts since 1973’, and regular host to ‘American-style lap dancing with the lucious [sic] ladies from Sunday Sport’. On this Sunday evening in March 2005, the club was entertaining its low-paid, heavily tattooed patrons with a ‘Slugfest’, in which amateur fighters knocked seven bells out of each other in a free-form mixed martial arts (MMA) contest.

MC Walker made the introductions: ‘Out of the blue corner from Canvey Island bringing to the ring a fighting record of three fights and three victories, welcome DAR-REN GUISHA!’ Fair and short with a muscular physique, Guisha wore the customary long shorts and fingerless gloves of MMA fighters, nothing on his feet. Kicking and stomping with bare feet is part of mixed martial arts, also known as No Holds Barred fighting.

‘In the red corner from Kent … LEA RUSHA!’

With short, dark-brown hair and a grim expression, Rusha was similarly diminutive, only five foot six, but overweight. As he raised his arms to acknowledge a cheer, Lea’s little body quivered. His legs appeared comically short and stout. Still he got a good reception from the crowd, having brought plenty of mates along, including his best friend, Jetmir, who was screaming encouragement ringside. Jet was in on Lea’s big secret. Together they were planning to steal Bank of England money stored in a warehouse in Lea’s home town of Tonbridge, forty miles south of London in the county of Kent.

photo of the securitas depot
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  • Photo of the Securitas cash depot

    Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons


Lea was born five miles up the road from Tonbridge in Royal Tunbridge Wells which has always been considered superior to its neighbour, the residents typified as ‘Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells’, upper-class correspondents of the Daily Telegraph. Lea’s parents were living over a shop near the Pantiles in the genteel heart of the town when Lea was born in 1972. His teenage dad, Robin Rusha, gave his occupation on Lea’s birth certificate as ‘professional footballer’, but within a couple of years he was working as a tiler. Robin broke up with his wife, Tina, who took Lea to live in Sherwood Park, a scruffy estate on the outskirts of the spa town.

Although some streets are pleasant, many of the council flats in Sherwood Park resemble barrack blocks. A sign in the postoffice window informs would-be robbers that, on advice from the police, no cash is kept on the premises. Prior to the smoking ban, the local Robin Hood pub smelt like an ashtray. A photo collage on the wall displayed the pinched faces and bare arses of its regulars. Lea’s divorced parents moved around the estate with their respective partners over the years, living in a succession of council houses, often in areas the council put its difficult tenants. One such address was a terrace in Wiltshire Way, an unkempt place where angry dogs snarl and harassed mothers scream ‘Shaddup!’ at their kids.

Little Lea, as he became known, for he was never tall, left school at fifteen to work as a labourer, later a roofer, and he was in trouble with the police from an early age. When he was seventeen he broke into a house and punched the owner in the face for good measure, breaking his teeth. Lea gained a conviction for Grievous Bodily Harm (GBH), and was sentenced to 180 hours’ community service later revoked in favour of four months in a Young Offenders Institution. Convictions for shoplifting, stealing and fraudulent use of a tax disc followed. Four days after his eighteenth birthday Lea became a father for the first time, but parental responsibility didn’t calm him down. An argument in a pub led to Lea threatening a man with a knife, then bashing him over the head with an ashtray, for which he received his second GBH conviction, in 1991, and two years in prison. Shortly after he got out, Lea acquired a conviction for assault.

It was around this time that Lea met Lee Banda, a local man who’d learned the martial art ofJeet Kune Do (JKD) from followers of Bruce Lee in San Francisco, then returned home to open a JKD gym in Tonbridge, styling himself ‘Guru’ Lee Banda. Tearaway Rusha became one of Guru Lee’s students and, for a short time, the relationship seems to have given structure and discipline to a wild boy who, as Banda says, could barely sit still for a haircut in his youth without telling the barber to ‘fucking hurry up’.

In 1994 the friends travelled to the Philippines to compete in an MMA championship, with Lea winning a silver medal. ‘I kept him out of trouble,’ claims Banda, and indeed his protégé lived an apparently law-abiding life for seven years, until a drink-driving conviction in 2000, after which he slid back into his old ways.

Lea had a new girlfriend, Karen Backley, who bore him two children. They moved into a semi-detached house, at 12 Lambersart Close, Southborough, a housing association property on a new estate between Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells. Neighbours gained the erroneous impression that Lea was a big shot in martial arts. The rumour was that, when he was away from home, Lea was prize-fighting. In fact he was most often travelling the country erecting industrial roofing, with his halfbrother, Ollie, and cousin, Jason. All three worked for the Essex roofing firm, SD Samuels. Like many of the people in this story, there was something of the Walter Mitty about Lea who, despite his ordinary occupation, liked to show off and present himself as being special.

‘He’s renowned for being a bit of a thug,’ says Robert Neve, a mechanic who lived next door in Lambersart Close. Robert would often hear Lea yelling at Karen and the kids and there were constant stories of fights in town. Rusha was banned from Da Vinci’s nightclub in Tunbridge Wells as ‘an unsavoury character’, and banned from the Imperial Hotel in Southborough. In January 2004 he was convicted of affray after getting involved in a pub brawl in which a man suffered a serious stab wound. Lea served 12 months in HMP Elmley. Lea and Karen had broken up by now and he was dating Katie Philp, a pretty brunette, born in 1983, who sold cosmetics at Fenwick’s in the Royal Victoria Place Shopping Centre in Tunbridge Wells. Lea’s mate, Jetmir, worked in the mall as a security guard.


Back at the Circus Tavern, Round 1 of the fight between Lea Rusha and Darren Guisha got under way. There would be a maximum of three, five-minute rounds, the bout decided by knock-out (KO), submission or referee’s decision.

When the bell rang, the boozed-up audience yelled loud and often obscene encouragement. Lea quickly got Darren in a neck hold, but the Essex boy freed himself, and punched, then kneed Lea.

‘Come on, Darren!’ yelled his mates.

‘Fuck him up!’

‘RUSHA! RUSHA! RUSHA!’ chanted Jetmir in reply.

Jetmir was born in 1981, in Albania, the small, impoverished nation on the Adriatic Sea, opposite the boot heel of Italy. Jet and his brother were the only children of a Muslim couple named Alush and Hajrie Bucpapa, the family name pronounced ‘Butchpapa’. Alush worked as a construction engineer, Hajrie was a school teacher. As a young boy, during the era of communist rule, Jet marched in formation at Asim Vokshi School in Bajram Curri dressed in a white shirt and a communist-red tie. He grew into a tall lad, well over six foot; he played basketball at school, and learned to speak English with a curious accent that made him sound South African.

Albania is one of the poorest nations in Europe and Jet wanted to move to the United Kingdom. He thought naïvely that if he got to the UK he might complete his education at Oxford University. But it was almost impossible for somebody such as himself to work legally in Britain. So, shortly after leaving school in 1998, aged eighteen, Jet paid to be smuggled across the Adriatic by speedboat—the favourite method for people traffickers using that stretch of coastline—then travelled north through Italy and France to the English Channel. Typically, at that time, migrants were smuggled into the UK in the backs of lorries, travelling by ferry from Calais or Boulogne, presenting themselves to the British authorities on the other side of the Channel as Kosovan refugees of the Balkans war. Migrants are usually granted the right to stay temporarily.

While the British authorities investigated Jet’s background, he moved to London and rented a flat, probably with benefit money, in Deptford High Street, SE8, and attended college in nearby Lewisham. Jet wasn’t permitted to take up permanent employment, so he had a series of part-time jobs. His search for work took him far afield, to Tunbridge Wells in fact, where he got a job as a nightclub bouncer and thereby met Rebecca Tapper.

Jet was not particularly handsome. He had an angular, even cruel face, his complexion troubled by acne. But he was tall and well-built, with a flirtatious manner, and Rebecca was one of several women to fall for him. ‘We got chatting in a queue for a club one night. The first thing that struck me was how fit and muscular he was.’ Rebecca lived in town with her mum, Carol, and stepfather David Conquest, both strict Baptists. They liked Jet, too. Many people did. Rebecca: ‘He was known locally as the Big Friendly Giant, because he got on so well with everybody.’

The couple married in December 2001, when they were both twenty. Jetmir gave false information on the marriage certificate, stating that his father was deceased. This may have been a story he was telling the authorities in order to remain in the UK; illegal immigrants sometimes pose as orphans to bolster their claim. After they married, the Bucpapas rented a ground floor flat at 34 Hadlow Road, Tonbridge, the last house of an Edwardian terrace near the town centre. Rebecca made a cosy home for them both. The kitchen was kept well-stocked and clean. She stretched a piece of diaphanous fabric over their double bed. There were flowers in vases, framed photos of the couple on the side and little notes on the kitchen message board. One from Rebecca to her husband read typically: ‘Love U J.’

Jet was not an ideal husband, however. Although he didn’t drink, he gambled, and he was a womanizer. In 2005, he struck up a friendship with a schoolgirl named Rebecca Weale, whose father worked for a salvage yard that Jet frequented. ‘He told me he was married, but separated,’ says Miss Weale, who saw Jet regularly in the months leading up to the robbery, though she insists they didn’t become lovers. There were other girls, too, at least one of whom did become his mistress.

crime scene photo from securitas depot robbery
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  • Real photo of the robbery in action.

    Photo Credit: Alchetron

Rebecca Bucpapa had a steady job with an Alfa Romeo dealership in Tonbridge. Jet did all sorts of jobs. He drove a van for the Daily Mail. He worked for the BBC, and dabbled in buying cars that were insurance write-offs. Rebecca’s stepdad gained the impression that Jet was most at home in the black economy, as well as being disgruntled by low-paid agency work. ‘He was working for various agencies doing security work, but it appears he wasn’t happy not being his own boss, which is why he chose to work in other ways. His ambition appears to have been to own his own business—possibly running a car wash,’ says David Conquest. ‘Jetmir comes from a totally different culture than ours in England. Over the years I have begun to understand a little of how he sees things as an outsider in our British society [and] I would also say that his background from a troubled country probably coloured the way he operated … It is quite likely that operating in the black economy meant working close to legal limits or maybe beyond them.’

Lea Rusha later told the Old Bailey he met Jet when his girl-friend, Katie Philp, was managing a restaurant. Lea came to pick Kate up and the Albanian chefs introduced him to their mate, Jet. The boys began training together, including taking a martial-arts class Lee Banda held at the Angel Centre in Tonbridge, next to Sainsbury’s, and just across the road from an anonymous building which Lea and Jet discovered was a counting house for the Bank of England. How they found this out is not clear. One of them may have known somebody who worked there, or perhaps they simply overheard staff talking about the depot in local pubs, clubs or gyms. Either scenario would be plausible. Lea and Jet were local, outgoing lads who knew a lot of people in what is a small town.

Lea and Jet couldn’t rob the cash depot on their own, however. That would be beyond their experience. Little Lea was a thug, a bar brawler and thief, but not a bank robber. Bucpapa was an illegal immigrant and scallywag, not a heavy-duty villain. The lads needed help from somebody with more criminal knowledge than they possessed, or simply more chutzpah, or balls, as they would say.

In all probability, it was Lea Rusha who broached the subject of a robbery with Lee Murray, a south London tough guy who boasts of having ‘balls the size of coconuts’. The young men were both involved in MMA fighting. Both trained at a gym in London called London Shootfighters. Murray was by far the more accomplished fighter. In recent years he had become a star of a hybrid form of MMA known as cage-fighting, winning a major event in Las Vegas in 2004. The Old Bailey would later hear that Murray was also a seasoned gangster who dealt drugs.

Rusha had wanted Lee Murray in his corner at the Circus Tavern for the Guisha fight, but Guru Lee, whom he asked first, objected to working with a second corner man. ‘Because I don’t know what techniques he knows and what strategy he will try.’ In the event, Murray didn’t show up at the Slugfest in March, 2005, but many of Murray’s mates were ringside on the night, joining in the chanting of ‘RUSHA! RUSHA! RUSHA!’

‘Fuck him up, Lea!”

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