07 December 2005

Ward faces £26m bank heist charges

Belfast Telegraph

**See also Bank hostage ordeal and Belfast bank worker upset

Northern employee in court today

By Chris Thornton
07 December 2005

The man who carried the first million pounds out of the Northern Bank in Belfast a year ago was accused today of taking part in the massive robbery.

Poleglass man Chris Ward (24), was charged by police in the early hours of this morning with robbery over the £26.5m heist and was due to appear at a court in Belfast today.

Ward's family were held hostage last December during the record heist - the largest cash robbery in history.

As the carefully planned operation unfolded at the bank's Donegall Square West headquarters, Ward carried out around £1m in a holdall. He said in a newspaper interview in January that he handed over the cash to a man at a bus stop after his family had been threatened.

That handover was believed to have been a test run for the main phase of the robbery. Mr Ward and another employee whose wife was being held, Kevin McMullan, then loaded up more cash that was taken away by a lorry.

Ward, from Colinmill, Poleglass, was arrested on November 29 for questioning about the huge theft.

Yesterday he became the person held longest under new anti-terrorism legislation in Northern Ireland when a series of court hearings approved a police application to question him for an eighth day.

His lawyers had protested that they had been excluded from part of the hearing approving the police request.

During that part of the hearing, police detailed five topics they wanted to put to Ward during extra interviews.

The High Court was convened in the middle of the night to discuss the exclusion, but Mr Justice Anthony Hart said the judge who excluded Mr Ward and his lawyer had acted within his powers.

Afterwards Ward's solicitor, Niall Murphy, said: "He continues to protest his innocence."

Police had initially interviewed Ward on video tape as a witness in the days immediately after the robbery.

In January he also spoke to the BBC and the Irish News.

In the newspaper interview, Ward said the robbers told him: "If you co-operate everything will be okay. If you don't, you and your family are dead."

He also said he believed people suspected him of being involved in the robbery. "They don't say it directly, but there is an insinuation that because I am a west Belfast Catholic that I must have been part of the robbery," he said.

But Ward said he would never have put his family through ordeal they suffered during the robbery.

A 35-year-old man arrested yesterday for questioning was released without charge.

Another Northern Bank worker, Seaneen McKenna, is issuing civil proceedings against police after she was arrested last week along with Ward. Ms McKenna has since been released.

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