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UK police arrest pair in 87 mln dollar robbery probe

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TONBRIDGE, England, Feb 24 (Reuters) Police said they has arrested two people in connection with the armed robbery of up to 50 million pounds (87 million diollar), perhaps the biggest such crime in British history.

Detectives arrested a man aged 29 and a woman of 30 in London after an gang posing as police mounted the raid on security depot in southern England.

''They are being questioned on suspicion of conspiracy to commit robbery,'' police said in a statement yesterday.

Airports and ports were put on alert in case the gang attempted to flee the country and a 2 million pound reward was offered.

Six raiders snatched the manager of a security depot, took his wife and young son hostage and threatened to kill them unless he helped them get inside the compound, police said.

''These men were armed, dangerous and violently threatening,'' said Detective Superintendent Paul Gladstone.

''They held the manager in fear of his life, and that of his wife and son, for more than six hours and threatened to kill him and his family before raiding the depot.'' The Bank of England, Britain's central bank, confirmed that 25 million pounds of its money had been stolen. Assistant Chief Constable Adrian Leppard told a news conference the final figure could hit 50 million pounds.

If confirmed at 50 million, it would eclipse the previous record haul of cash and valuables worth up to 40 million pounds from a safe deposit box centre in Knightsbridge, central London in 1987.

Leppard said police were keeping an open mind about the robbery and would not rule out an inside job, with someone working inside the depot to help the gang.

''This is organised crime at its top level,'' he said. ''This was planned and executed with military precision.

No one was injured in the raid in Tonbridge, Kent, 30 km southeast of London.

The depot is run by Sweden's Securitas AB, the world's biggest security firm.

Police said raiders in an unmarked car with police-style blue lights on its front grille pulled over the depot manager's car as he drove home from work on Tuesday.

He was taken to a farm building where a gun was put to his head. He was told to cooperate or his family would be killed.

At the same time, his wife and son were abducted from their home by raiders dressed as police.

Early on Wednesday, the gang spent more than an hour loading a large white lorry with cash -- a mixture of new and old bank notes -- before escaping.

Reuters PDS VP0520

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