AT THE time it was Britain’s biggest ever bank raid and led to one of the gang being sentenced to death.

Both The Great Train Robbery in 1963 which saw thieves escape with £2.6m in cash and the Brink’s-Mat £26m gold bullion raid in 1983 were greater in value.

However, the theft of £19,753 - £1.8m in today's money - from the Paisley Union Bank in the centre of Glasgow in July 1811 was possibly the most daring.

The three men responsible broke in and out of the branch several times at night - before actually stealing the money - to test their plan and escape route.

The Paisley Union Bank Company had been formed in 1788 and quickly set up offices in towns all over Scotland.

One of the main branches was in Ingram Street, near Glassford Street, close to where the popular Corinthian Club bar and restaurant complex now sits.

Every Saturday afternoon the bank would receive large consignments of notes, gold guineas and silver coins. 

The money was contained in a strong iron box and transported from Edinburgh by a horse-drawn mail coach to a location in Glassford Street.

On Saturday, July 13 the bank porter carried the regular delivery from the coach to the bank where it was locked in a large iron safe. 

The following Monday morning when the same member of staff opened the bank everything seemed to be as normal.

However, when the manager checked the safe, he discovered it was empty.

Every pound shilling and pence that the bank possessed was gone.

Glasgow Times:

The next day a reward of 500 guineas - around £45,000 today - was offered for information leading to the conviction of the thieves and recovery of the money.

A local tradesman, David Clacher, had seen three men acting suspiciously in the early hours of the Sunday morning near the bank.

The three men appeared to be tying up parcels of paper and placing them in bags. 

They then made off towards a coach yard in nearby George Street where he lost sight of them.

In those early days the Procurator Fiscal, not the police, investigated serious crimes.

The city's fiscal, John Bennett, went immediately to the coach yard which was owned  by a Sandy Leith. 

Leith had been approached about 6am on the Sunday by three Englishmen wanting to hire a small horse-drawn coach to take them to Edinburgh.

It would be the equivalent today of someone hiring a taxi between the two cities.

Leith was reluctant to do business on a Sunday, at a time when working on 'the Sabbath' was frowned upon.

He changed his mind when one of the three claimed that a relative had taken ill suddenly in Edinburgh. 

Bennett immediately contacted his opposite number in the capital and asked that a search be carried out for the three suspects.

However, it quickly emerged that the three men, armed with their loot, had headed south for London after arriving in Edinburgh.

John Likly, manager of the Paisley Union Bank, and the bank's lawyer, Robert Walkinshaw, decided to travel to the capital to get the Bow Street Runners involved in the investigation. 

They were privately employed court officers based at Bow Street Magistrates’ Court who investigated crime in that part of the city.

Investigators in Glasgow meanwhile discovered that the three Englishmen had stayed at a lodging house in the Broomielaw, near Carrick Street, prior to the raid.

The landlady remembered them having sets of keys, plans and drawings.

They would often go out at night and return at two or three in the morning. 

However, they never caused any bother and paid their rent on time so she had not thought anything of it.

She had also been asked to post a parcel to London during that time.

It was later discovered that the three robbers had broken into the bank several times before the robbery to test the keys and get impressions from the various locks to make more copies.

They even sent the false keys to London to have them checked and then sent back to Glasgow.

It meant that everything was ready for the night of the big theft.

Likly and Walkinshaw passed the information on two high profile Bow Street Runners, Stephen Lavender and John Vickery. 

They managed to find the office in London which had handled the parcel delivery from Glasgow.

It was addressed to a John Scoltcock, who made false and skeleton keys for London’s underworld. 

The parcel had been sent by a Mr Little, an alias used by well-known robber Huffey White who had escaped from the prison in Portsmouth a few months earlier.

Lavender and Vickery realised that White fitted one of the Glasgow landlady's descriptions, while his main associate James Mackoull, who also use the alias James Moffat, matched another. 

The third man they discovered was Harry French, an expert lock-picker. 

All three had planned to stay at Scoltcock’s house and share out the bank robbery proceeds on their return to London.

However, it wasn’t long before arrests were made.

Glasgow Times:

Following their arrests, White and French offered £12,000 of the stolen money to the bank if they dropped the charges against them both.

Likly and Walkinshaw accepted the offer and returned to Glasgow with the cash.

After a few months, Mackoull, who had not agreed to the deal, was arrested in London and taken back to Glasgow in chains, where he was locked up within the Tolbooth Prison at Glasgow Cross. 

However, his lawyer found a mistake in the arrest warrant and he was eventually freed on July 2, 1812 and the robbery charges dropped.

For the next three years little is known about the robbery suspect and his whereabouts.

However, around 1815, Mackoull, this time with a young woman, returned to Scotland, and rented a palatial house in Portobello in Edinburgh which had its own servants and a horse-drawn carriage. 

Back in the capital they enjoyed a lavish lifestyle on the proceeds of the bank theft.

However, his luck ran out when he tried to pass £800 of Paisley Union Bank notes in one of the city's banks.

The police were called and seized the cash, but Mackoull convincingly denied the money was stolen. 

He was allowed to leave the bank and quickly left Edinburgh, despite promising he would remain in the city to be questioned further.

On his arrival to London, he quickly took legal advice and ordered his lawyer to raise civil actions at the Court of Session in Edinburgh against the Paisley Union Bank for the return of the £800.

He also demanded compensation from the same bank for his incarceration in the Tolbooth. 

Five years passed before the case was finally brought before a jury in May 1820, who found in favour of the bank. 

Due to the evidence obtained by the court, the Lord Advocate instructed that Mackoull be arrested and ordered to stand trial for bank robbery - a crime then which carried the death penalty.

The evidence in the criminal case was the same as the previous civil action but on this occasion Mackoull was on trial for his life.

The most important witness against him was the London blacksmith, John Scoltcock, who admitted making the skeleton keys and other implements for Mackoull and his friends. 

He had also been sent drawings of safes and plans of the Paisley Union Bank. The jury in this case found him guilty.

Glasgow Times:

Mackoull was then sentence to death by hanging following the trial at the High Court in Edinburgh.

The execution was scheduled for December 22, but he took his own life in prison days beforehand after he managed to get hold of some smuggled poison.

Mackoull had been a bold and clever criminal.

However, his mistake had been in raising the court action to get his £800 back.

Having lost the case amid great publicity, he left the Crown Office little option but to try him for the £20,000 theft.

A combination of greed and arrogance, typical of many criminals in Glasgow's history, had led to his downfall.