07 December 2005

Archive article: Bank Heist - Local man's ordeal

Irelandclick.com

Cops clueless as more details emerge of what kidnap victims had to go through.

Cops carry out forensic examination on Poleglass home after £22million robbery

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A family home in West Belfast was yesterday forensically examined as part of the investigation into the robbery of £22 million from the Northern Bank.

The Ward family from Colinmill in Poleglass were held hostage at gunpoint for 25 hours by those behind the heist. Son Christopher (22), who works for the Northern Bank Cash Centre at Donegall Square West, was kidnapped from his home as part of the elaborate robbery plan.

Neighbours in Colinmill say that they are shocked that the close-knit family were held hostage in the area. They have described both Christopher and the other members of the Ward family as quiet people who keep themselves to themselves. It is believed that the family will now require counselling for the ordeal they endured.

Christopher is a leading member of one of the north’s top Celtic Supporters’ Clubs, Eire Go Bragh.

The PSNI have said at this stage that they are not in a position to say who carried out the robbery, but have said that the number of robbers in the gang ran into double figures. They are examining a number of lines of enquiry and said that one of the lines of enquiry they are spending much time looking at is paramilitary involvement in the incident.

The stolen money is made up of £12 million in new Northern Bank £10 and £20 notes, £1.15 million in new Northern Bank £100 and £50 notes, and in excess of £5 million in used notes.

Events began to unfold at 10pm on Sunday night when a number of masked men went to the Ward family home. At home at the time with Christopher were his parents, Rose and Gerry, Christopher’s brother, Gerard, and Gerard’s girlfriend.

The masked men entered the house and at least two masked men stayed with the family for over 24 hours, holding them at gunpoint. Christopher was taken in a red car from Colinmill in Poleglass to Loughinsland Road near Downpatrick, where his supervisor, Kevin McMullan, lives. When Christopher arrived in Downpatrick masked men had already taken over the house. Men dressed as PSNI officers had earlier called at the Co Down house and told Mr McMullan that a member of his family had been killed in a road accident. A gun was then put to the bank official’s head and he was tied up. The man’s wife was taken in a car to an unknown location where she was held for 24 hours.

At around 6.30am the masked men left the house in Downpatrick and gave instructions to the bank officials as to what they were to do. The bank workers went into work at midday and carried on as normal during the afternoon. Both men were working in the cash centre in the basement of the bank in Wellington Street. At 6pm one of the workers left the bank on foot carrying a holdall and walked to Upper Queen Street where he met a man.

The holdall, containing in excess of £1 million in new notes, was handed over to a man wearing a hat and a scarf.

Over the next few hours more money from the cash centre was loaded on to crates. Twice, shortly after 7pm and shortly after 8pm, a white van registration number RCZ 6632, called at the Wellington Street entrance to the bank and took away substantial amounts of cash. The van headed towards Grosvenor Road and the Westlink, say cops. The PSNI will now examine hundreds of hours of CCTV footage from the bank and city centre cameras in an attempt to identify those who took part in the raid.

Detective Superintendent Andy Sproule, who is in charge of the investigation, said that at the time of going to press no arrests had been planned. He said that although forensic examinations were ongoing, he believed that the robbers had been “forensically aware”.

“There is clear evidence that the individuals who took over the houses were forensically aware and that they took precautions so that they could not be forensically traced.”

Christopher Ward and Kevin McMullan are currently being interviewed by the PSNI in a bid to get further information on the heist gang.

“The bank employees are being interviewed as witnesses and the line of enquiry in relation to insider involvement is ongoing but it happens in all these type of enquiries and this is standard procedure,” added the PSNI officer.

The National Australia Bank, which owns the Northern Bank, said the robbery would have no knock-on effect on the sale of the Northern to the Danish Danske Bank Group announced earlier this month.

"The theft is covered by self-insurance and, as such, National Australia Bank will bear the impact of any losses arising from the theft."

Journalist:: Roisin McManus


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