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.
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.