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Police said a number of large bags containing a "significant amount of high value" property had been recovered from one of the addresses raided, but urged victims to be patient while the items are carefully examined. Det Supt Craig Turner, head of the flying squad, said: "Police officers will be in contact with them in order that we can restore this property back to their rightful owners."

The theft caused embarrassment for Scotland Yard after detectives were forced to admit that they had failed to respond to an intruder alarm that sounded at the Hatton Garden Safe Deposit Company over the Easter weekend.

A total of 72 of the 600 boxes in the vault were opened. Many of the victims did not have insurance.

Commander Peter Spindler said: "At times we've been portrayed as if we have acted like Keystone Cops, but I want to reassure you that in the finest traditions of Scotland Yard, these detectives have done their utmost to bring justice to the victims of this callous crime.

"They've worked tirelessly and relentlessly, they've put their lives on hold over the last six or seven weeks to make sure that justice is served. They've exemplified the finest attributes of Scotland Yard detectives."

An apology was made for the failure to respond to the burglar alarm on Good Friday. "Our normal procedures would have resulted in police attending the scene and we apologise that this did not happen. In this case, the owners had been notified by the alarm company and a security guard attended the building but saw nothing more than our officers would have done had they been deployed."

The eight men charged with conspiracy to burgle, aged between 48 and 76, appeared at Westminster Magistrates' Court on May 21 and were remanded in custody.