06 December 2005

Northern Bank quiz man is held by Australian immigration police

Belfast Telegraph

By Tom Brady
06 December 2005

A man, who was interviewed by police investigating the massive Northern Bank robbery in Belfast, has been detained in Australia.

The man and his girlfriend, who is an employee in the Irish Embassy in Sydney, were held early yesterday by the immigration authorities there.

The woman was later released by the authorities after questioning.

Police in Belfast last night stressed that the man had not been arrested in relation to the bank robbery last December.

A direct link between the robbery and the IRA money laundering operation smashed by gardai in Cork earlier this year has since been alleged by gardai.

The PSNI said last night they were aware of a hearing relating to an immigration issue in Australia and concerning an individual from Northern Ireland.

But they would not comment on any particular line of inquiry in their investigation or whether they were interested in any particular given individual.

The man had been interviewed in the past by the PSNI after police established he was a friend of an official of the bank and might, unwittingly, have been aware of some crucial information on the events leading up to the heist.

As a result of inquiries over the past few months, detectives have been considering whether to seek to interview the man again about fresh information that has come to light during their investigation.

Meanwhile, investigators were continuing last night to question Northern Bank employee, Chris Ward (24), who was arrested by police at his home in the nationalist Poleglass area of Belfast last Tuesday.

Mr Ward, who has been on sick leave since the robbery, is being held at the serious crime suite at Antrim police station.

He and his family had been held hostage by the IRA in the lead up to the robbery and they were warned they would be killed if he did not co-operate.

Mr Ward said gunmen burst into his home and he was then bundled into a car and taken to the home of a bank supervisor, Kevin McMullan in Loughinisland, Co Down.

The two men were then ordered to report for work as normal the next day while their families were kept captive.

Mr Ward said he was given instructions to stuff £1.2m sterling into a sports bag and carry it out of the bank as a dummy run.

After the money was handed over to a gang member he and Mr McMullan had to fill 24 green boxes with cash and carry them to a loading bay where they told security guards that they were bringing out rubbish which was to be collected in a van.

CCTV footage later showed a white van making two large collections from the bank premises.

The arrest of Mr Ward and another bank official, who was later released from custody without charge, came as Gardai and the PSNI worked closely together on the probe.

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