08 December 2005

Police bugged £26m bank heist suspect

Belfast Telegraph

**From yesterday

PSNI trying to frame me, says accused

By Chris Thornton
07 December 2005

Police bugged Northern Bank employee Chris Ward on holiday in Spain while building the case that brought him to court today charged with stealing £26.5 million.

Details of the extensive police operation against the bank official were revealed when Ward appeared at Belfast Magistrates Court this morning as the second man accused of carrying out the heist.

The bank worker denies taking part in the robbery - which has been blamed on the IRA - and in a statement read out in court he accused police of attempting to "frame me".

Ward did not speak during today's hearing, but signalled to his family in the public gallery to keep their chins up.

The 24-year-old carried the first million pounds out of the bank during the December 20 robbery while his family was being held hostage.

He and another official, Kevin McMullan, then loaded more than £25m in cash for robbers to drive away in a lorry, making it the biggest cash robbery in UK history. Mr McMullan's wife was held hostage during the robbery.

The court heard today that police believe Ward manipulated the bank's work rota to create "a window of opportunity" for the robbery.

His solicitor, Niall Murphy, said in court that Ward drew up the rota four days before the robbery, and alleged that neither his client nor Mr McMullan had been originally scheduled to work on the day of the heist.

Detective Inspector Sean Wright confirmed during the hearing that police used "intrusive surveillance" while Ward was on holiday in Spain.

The court also heard that Ward was interviewed 50 times in the last eight days - with ten of those interviews concentrating on his own bank account.

Ward also alleged that police bugged his home at Colinmill, Poleglass, although that was not confirmed during the hearing.

The detective inspector told the court that when he charged Ward with the robbery at one o'clock this morning, the bank worker replied: "Police had bugged my house, the holiday in Spain, went through all my phone records, my bank accounts, hounded my friends, even going as far as Australia, and have tortured my family in an attempt to frame me with the Northern Bank robbery."

He said police "have held me longer than the hostage takers who seized me last year".

Detective Inspector Wright said the case against Ward is circumstantial.

Mr Murphy told the court: "My client denies absolutely this offence and, such as it is, the police case in its entirety."

Magistrate Ken Nixon remanded Ward into custody until January 4.

Another man, 23-year-old builder Dominic McEvoy from Kilcoo, Co Down, was charged with the robbery last month.

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