SAFECRACKER is an explosive new biography which blows the lid on a Sheffield man’s dynamite life of crime - claiming even the police sounded him out for a NUM raid during the 1984 pit strike, as he confessed to Graham Walker.
NINETY-year-old Albert Hattersley might look like your average grey-haired granddad - but he’s far from a picture of innocence.
For a time he was Britain’s most wanted man.
Albert, born in Chapeltown and now living in High Green, led a double life as a coal miner by day and safecracker by night.
He learned his infamous trade using explosives from the pit face to blow up safes he dragged from bomb sites during the Sheffield blitz.
And for over four decades he became revered as the best in the business, cracking scores of safes to steal over £100,000 – well over £1 million today and he blew it on “birds, cars and booze’’, he admits.
VIDEO: Press the play button to watch Digital Editor Graham Walker’s exclusive interview with Safecracker Albert Hattersley and authors Mick Fowler and Giles Brearley.
The safecracker, or so-called Peterman, was known only as ‘Yorkie’ as he worked for some of Britain’s most powerful post-war crime bosses like Billy Hill.
He associated with notorious Eastcastle Street robber George ‘Taters’ Chatham, rubbed shoulders with infamous gangsters ‘Mad’ Frankie Fraser and even the Krays, though he admits to a fearful dislike for the violent twins.
Like cat burglar Peter Scott he saw himself more of a ‘gentleman thief’. He didn’t gamble – everything was meticulously planned. He turned down the chance to be part of the 1963 Great London Train Robbery with Bruce Reynolds, because too many people were involved. He feared their secret would get out. It did.
Albert’s own infamous exploits made him one of The Regional Crime Squad’s top targets and he was sentenced to 24-years.
He escaped from jail twice and once broke into Wakefield Prison – on a dry run to plot the £1,000 escape of a fellow prisoner who, only during research for the book, was discovered to be none other than Nazi propaganda broadcaster Lord Haw Haw.
The daring escape failed after plans leaked to the Governor. But patriotic Albert says he wouldn’t have got involved if he had know who he was helping.
Albert claims that police asked him to raid a safe in a bid to find evidence linking Libyan funding of the NUM, during the 1984 miners strike. He refused to betray his former colleagues.
Recovering from a heart-attack and a slight stroke, he says he wanted to set the record straight “warts and all’ in a book researched and written by retired South Yorkshire Police CID inspector Mick Fowler and historian Giles Brearley.
There is already talk of a Heartbeat-style TV or film adaptation of his dramatic and colourful tale, when safe-blowing reached its peak between post-war and the 1980s.
“You have a lot of spare time in the nick. I once counted the number of birds I’ve had and how many safes I’ve cracked. It got to about the same, 48 and 40. I couldn’t say which was which,’’ laughed three-times married Albert, who has five children and six grandkids
“I guess I took £100,000 - over £1 million today. It’s gone on birds, cars and booze. I’ve had boats, motorbikes. I’ve thrown money away. Years ago I bloody gave it away.
“Regrets I have are for my family. I wouldn’t live my life the same again. I would say it isn’t worth it.
“I wouldn’t talk to the Krays. They were terrible people you wouldn’t dare upset. I don’t like gratuitous violence.”
He explained: “ I first used explosives down the pit. You didn’t have to smuggle it out. There were no checks. It wouldn’t go off without a detonator. I had a bakery and I used to burn it to get rid of it.
“I bought old safes from Sheffield bomb sites for £50, took them up Greno wood and practised opening them. I’ve opened safes nobody else could.”
Co-author Mick, a police officer for 32-years, who wrote crime fiction novel, Heart of the Demon, said: “I’ve interviewed hundreds of villains but Albert’s exploits are the most enthralling and compelling story of villainy I have ever heard.”.
* Safecracker is available from The Star shop in York Street, Sheffield, price £9.95. The authors will sign copies there in person tomorrow, Friday, July 13, 12 noon to 3pm. If you can’t get - pre order, office hours, on 0114 276 7676, ext 3130.
DID YOU KNOW? Peterman is crime slang for a safe-blower - peter can mean a safe or a prison cell. The word is believed to derive from saltpetre, a component of gunpowder and it’s also associated with the old French word péter, meaning to crack or explode.
POLICE ASKED ME TO BLOW NUM SAFE, CLAIMS ALBERT
POLICE asked Albert Hattersely to blow a safe for them - in a failed bid to find proof of alleged Libya funding of the National Union of Mineworkers during the 1984 pit strike, the book claims.
It would have made the public unsympathetic to their cause.
A hint of a Libya link at the time tarnished the union, which denied claims and accused the Government of fuelling a smear campaign.
Now Albert, in his biography Safecracker, says he was arrested for a motoring offence and taken to Barnsley police station where he claims an inspector asked for his help.
The ex-miner said it would have been a betrayal of his own and he supported them in their struggle against the Thatcher Government at the time.
“The inspector said he had been asked by someone high up to sound me out,’’ he alleges in the book.
“The Government was becoming suspicious that “subversive organisations” were influencing current events.
“But I felt somewhat offended. I would never betray my own.”
South Yorkshire Police say they are unable to comment on the allegation because it happened so long ago and no records exist.
I BROKE INTO JAIL TO FREE MY PAL NORMAN - BUT TURNS OUT HE WAS LORD HAW HAW!
GERMANY calling....Germany Calling - that’s how Norman Baillie-Stewart, alias Lord Haw Haw, began his chilling Nazi propaganda broadcasts which struck fear into the heart of Britain.
But when Sheffield safecracker Albert Hattersley befriended him in Wakefield Prison after the war he didn’t realise who he was. He only knew him as Norman, believing his made-up story that he was of royal aristocracy.
A former army officer and German spy, Baillie-Stewart was the last British person to be imprisoned in the Tower of London and fled to German before the start of World War II.
After the war, jailed for “committing an act likely to assist the enemy”, he offered Albert £1,000 to break him out of jail. So when Albert was released he broke back in on a dry run, on the way to blowing a safe in Wakefield, and made it all the way to Baillie-Stewart’s cell door to hatch a return plot to free him.
It failed when Baillie-Stewart told another prisoner who grassed him to the Governor and he was moved.
Albert said: “I didn’t know who he was. Truly. All I knew he was a gentleman and I was doing it for £1,000. If I’d have know it was Lord Haw Haw I wouldn’t have bothered. I’m patriotic.”