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Eight British men due in court over multi-million pound gem heist

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LONDON, May 21 (Reuters) - Eight British men will appear in court on Thursday accused of carrying out a daring raid in London's jewellery business district last month that involved abseiling down an elevator shaft and drilling through a two-metre thick wall.

London's Metropolitan Police on Wednesday charged the eight men, who range in age from 48 to 76, with conspiracy to burgle the Hatton Garden Safety Deposit Ltd building over the course of two nights during the long Easter weekend.

British media have estimated that the raid on a vault full of boxes in which many of the area's gold, diamond and jewellery businesses kept some of their goods may have been the country's biggest ever heist by value. Police have not confirmed that.

Hatton Garden, in the heart of London, has been home to the gem trade for centuries and boasts almost 300 dealers and more than 50 jewellery shops.

After initial embarrassment for the police, who failed to send any officers when a burglar alarm sounded in the safety deposit building at the start of the raid, detectives arrested nine men in London and nearby Kent on Tuesday.

Police said they had recovered "significant amounts of high value property" which they were confident had been taken from the Hatton Garden vault.

Eight men were charged while the ninth has been bailed pending further investigations. Four of the suspects are in their 50s, one in his 60s and the oldest are 74 and 76.

Two of the men, named by police as Brian Reader, 76, and Paul Reader, 50, have been described by British media as a father and son. Police gave the same address for both men but did not confirm their relationship.

The eight men are due to appear at Westminster Magistrates Court later on Thursday for the start of their criminal prosecution. (Reporting by Estelle Shirbon; editing by James Davey)

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