Police officers outside the Kenya Commercial Bank branch in Thika on November 20, 2017. PHOTO | MARY WAMBUI | NATIONPolice officers outside the Kenya Commercial Bank branch in Thika on November 20, 2017. PHOTO | MARY WAMBUI | NATION
By MARY WAMBUI, @Mary_Ethan [email protected]

Robbers who appeared to have learnt from an American crime television series dug a 30-metre-long tunnel into a bank’s strongroom in Thika Town and stole more than Sh50 million.

The criminals dug the tunnel from inside a stall opposite the Thika divisional police headquarters, where they had been running a bookshop, through which they accessed the local Kenya Commercial Bank branch and stole the money.

Not even the police, stationed just 150 metres away from the bank, noticed any suspicious activity — until Monday morning, when the money was discovered missing by the branch manager, Mr Samuel Ng’ang’a.

Mr Ng’ang’a told the police that he noticed that something was amiss when he opened the bank’s vault.

PHOTO | MARY WAMBUI | NATION

PHOTO | MARY WAMBUI | NATION

SMELT SMOKE

“When the manager opened the strongroom, he smelt smoke and reported the matter to the police,” said Kiambu police commander Adiel Nyange.

Mr Nyange added that officers immediately rushed to the bank’s strongroom and noticed that the items stored there were in disarray.

They also found a hole that had been dug inside.

“The officers started checking a building adjacent to the bank. They eventually found a tunnel that was leading into the bank. It was then that the bank officials checked the safes and realised that slightly above Sh50 million had been stolen,” said the police boss.

The building, Friendly Exhibitions, hosts several stalls that include M-Pesa shops and bookshops.

It is in one of the bookshops that the tunnel had been dug. Police said drilling must have started soon after the traders rented the stalls in June.

The shopped where the robbers had rented stalls.  Police officers outside the Kenya Commercial Bank branch in Thika on November 20, 2017. PHOTO | MARY WAMBUI | NATION

The shopped where the robbers had rented stalls outside the Kenya Commercial Bank branch in Thika. PHOTO | MARY WAMBUI | NATION

CARTONS AND SACKS

“They packaged the sand in cartons and sacks, which they loaded into a vehicle. They gave the impression that the cartons and sacks contained textbooks. Traders occupying other stalls had not detected the tunnel, neither did officers whose station is 150 metres away from the building,” said Mr Nyange

The owner of the bookshop is said to have rented three stalls in June, and was yet to fully settle as every now and again neighbours could hear sounds from the shop and concluded that some repairs were being done.

Police suspect an individual occupying a stall next to the three, who was running a phone repair shop, was part of the syndicate. They said the man is at large.

PHOTO | MARY WAMBUI | NATION

PHOTO | MARY WAMBUI | NATION

‘NOT SETTLED’

Thika District Business Association chairman Alfred Wanyoike said he had attempted to woo the two into the organisation but they kept saying they were not yet fully settled.

“They were young people, hardly known around here. I doubt they were residents of Thika,” said Mr Wanyoike.

The police are holding three people for questioning. One is the custodian of the keys for the stalls and the other two are the building’s agent and an employee of the phone repair shop.

“Those who rented the stalls are at large. They are the main culprits. We are holding these three for questioning. Investigations will reveal whether it was an inside job but as of now, we cannot rule out anything,” said Mr Nyange.