30 November 2005

Outrage as bank raid hostage is held

Daily Ireland

Ciarán Barnes

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The arrest of Northern Bank employee Chris Ward in connection with last December’s robbery at its Belfast headquarters has been described as “politically motivated” by his solicitor.
The 24-year-old and a female bank employee were arrested yesterday following dawn raids by the PSNI in the Poleglass area of west Belfast.
After the heist, Mr Ward appeared on television and described how he had been taken hostage in the run-up to the raid.
He explained in detail how he and a colleague had been forced to facilitate the theft of £26.5 million (€38.7 million) from the bank’s city centre base.
In a statement released to Daily Ireland yesterday, solicitor Kevin Winters insisted that his client’s arrest was politically motivated and without basis.
Mr Winters said: “Mr Ward was a victim in this matter. At all times, he has been co-operative with all police and other inquiries.
“He has assisted police in every way he can. He has been under considerable stress since his ordeal when the robbery took place.”
Mr Winters said his client had been the subject of some adverse media commentary a short time after the robbery.
The lawyer added: “As a result of prejudicial and suggestive media commentary, Mr Ward took the decision to provide an interview with the BBC in order to set the record straight.
“That interview had the desired effect because it completely nullified any continued prejudicial media commentary.
“In turn, that decision by him has now been used by police to undermine him.
“Police are now referring to this media interview and are attempting to use it as some sort of evidential or other basis to question his credibility.
“It is extremely unfair for police to take this interview and attempt to compare it with other interviews he gave to police about his ordeal.
“This approach feeds into a flawed public perception. As matters presently stand, there is no evidence put to Mr Ward to justify his arrest and detention.”
Earlier this month, three men were charged in connection with the Northern Bank robbery. All of the suspects said they were innocent.
A small amount of cash recovered at a PSNI sports club in Belfast is believed to have come from the robbery.
With the bulk of stolen cash missing, most of it in Northern Bank notes, the bank was forced to issue redesigned currency and withdraw the earlier issue in a bid to make the robbers’ haul worthless.
Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams, speaking about the arrests, said: “People should not be subjected to trial by media.
“One year on, there is still the same accusation being made and, one year on, that case has not been advanced at all.”

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