21 December 2005

£26m bank heist suspect is bailed

Belfast Telegraph

Parents put up Poleglass home as surety

By Chris Thornton
21 December 2005

THE Northern Bank employee accused of being the inside man in last year's £26.5m robbery was due to be freed on £120,000 bail today.

Chris Ward was cleared for release after his parents agreed to put up the family home at Colinmill, Poleglass, as an assurance that he will turn up for trial.

His release came after the Crown claimed he was part of the "organised gang" that carried out last year's record-breaking heist, which has been blamed on the IRA.

The court heard that Ward (24), had changed a work rota to place himself alongside supervisor Kevin McMullan on the day of the robbery.

And it was claimed that he "strongly" resisted Mr McMullan's suggestion that they tip off the bank authorities about the robbery plan after they had been left alone by the gang.

Crown lawyer Gordon Kerr QC described Ward as the main point of contact with the gang during the robbery, saying that he had been seen whispering with the driver of the van that took away the record haul of cash.

The lawyer also highlighted differences between the treatment of Mr McMullan and his wife and Ward's family when their homes were taken over by the robbery gang.

He said Mr McMullan had been assaulted and threatened with a gun, while his wife had been threatened with death and kidnapped in order to ensure his co-operation.

In Ward's case, Mr Kerr said, "no violence was used in the house taken over in relation to his family".

"There was no evidence of weapons. No one was bound. All of the family was allowed basically free access around the house. No one was removed as a hostage," he said.

Mr Kerr also told the court that when Ward was brought to the McMullans' house in Loughinisland, "his attitude in terms of what was happening to him can be described as strange".

The lawyer said Ward asked his captors for beer and food, and slept during the night before the robbery while Mr McMullan had been unable to sleep.

He said the captors left the two men alone in the house the next morning after scrubbing it clean with bleach.

The lawyer said that at that stage Mr McMullan suggested calling a hotline for bank employees to warn about the robbery, but Ward resisted.

"The degree of knowledge showed by the robbers of the internal systems of the bank made it clear that they had inside knowledge, inside knowledge that was consistent with Ward's duties and responsibilities and not someone higher," Mr Kerr said.

He said that when Mr McMullan told Ward his father was due to call at the house and he feared he would be unable to keep up "the sham" in front of him, Ward suggested they leave early for their noon shift.

Mr Kerr also confirmed that Ward was placed among republican prisoners at Maghaberry at his request. He said that the prison authorities had been willing to place him in isolation because of his lawyer's concerns about loyalists.

During the build-up to the robbery, Mr Kerr said Ward had not shown up for work in a local bar, two hours before the robbers turned up at his house.

Frank O'Donoghue QC, appearing for Ward, said he had worked for the bank for nearly six years before the robbery.

He said he "co-operated fully with all of the police investigations" and answered all questions.

Lord Justice Campbell agreed to release Ward, provided he surrender his passports and report to police twice daily.

He also asked for £90,000 sureties from Ward's parents, £10,000 each from the chairmen of Ward's GAA and Celtic Supporters' clubs, and £10,000 from Ward himself.

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