Northern Bank robbery


Northern Bank robbery

The Northern Bank robbery was a large robbery of cash from the Donegall Square West headquarters of Northern Bank in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Carried out by a large, proficient group on 20 December 2004, the gang seized the equivalent of £26.5 million in pounds sterling and small amounts of other currencies, largely euros and U.S. dollars. This made it the largest bank robbery in UK and Irish history. Although the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) and the British and Irish governments claimed the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) was responsible (or had permitted others to undertake the raid), this is denied by the Provisional IRA and the political party Sinn Féin. Although one person has been convicted of money laundering, the investigation is still ongoing and the case remains unsolved.

Contents

Details of raid

On the night of Sunday 19 December 2004 groups of armed men arrived at the homes of two officials of the Northern Bank, one in Downpatrick in County Down, the other in Poleglass near Belfast. Masquerading as PSNI officers, they entered the homes and held the officials and their families at gunpoint. Bank official Chris Ward was taken from Poleglass to Downpatrick, the home of his supervisor Kevin McMullan, while gunmen remained at his home with his family. Subsequently Mr McMullan's wife was taken from their home and held, also at gunpoint, at an unknown location. The following day both officials were instructed to report for work at the bank's headquarters at Belfast's Donegall Square West as normal.

At lunch time on Monday 20 December 2004, bank official Chris Ward removed a sum of money thought to be around £1 million pounds and placed it in a sports holdall. He walked out of the banks' Wellington Street staff entrance with the holdall and made his way to a bus stop in Queen Street, Belfast where he met up with one of the robbers. This action was later released as a closed circuit video presentation. After handing over the sports holdall with the stolen money, Ward returned to his work location. This was regarded as a test run for the main robbery later in the evening.

McMullan and Ward remained at work after the close of business, and later in the evening they gave entry to other members of the gang. The robbers entered the bank via the Wellington Street staff entrance and made their way to the bank's cash handling and storage facility. This held an unusually large amount of cash in preparation for distribution to automated teller machines for the busy Christmas shopping season. Cash was transferred to one or several vehicles (possibly including a white "Luton" van) parked outside in Wellington Street. The gang then fled. Shortly before midnight the gang holding the Ward family left, and those holding Mrs McMullan released her in a forest near Ballynahinch.

The haul included £10m of uncirculated Northern Bank sterling banknotes, £5.5m of used Northern Bank sterling notes, £4.5m of circulated sterling notes issued by other banks, and small amounts of other currencies, largely euros and U.S. Dollars.

Interviewed after the raid, several experts said that taking the Northern Bank notes was foolish, as, apart from some tourist destinations, they are often refused outside of Northern Ireland and Scotland, and that anyone attempting to pass them in Northern Ireland would quickly arouse suspicion. Following the raid, Northern Bank announced that it would recall all £300 million worth of its banknotes in denominations of £10 or more, and reissue them in different colours with a new logo and new serial numbers. The first of these new notes entered circulation on 11 March 2005.

Initial responses

Although the police initially refused to be drawn as to who might be involved, a number of commentators including journalist Kevin Myers writing in the Daily Telegraph quickly blamed the Provisional IRA, saying that only it had the wherewithal to conduct such a professional operation in the province.[1] One senior police officer quoted in The Guardian newspaper said: "This operation required great expertise and coordination, probably more than the loyalist gangs possess".[2]

Investigations were conducted by the Police Service of Northern Ireland. On 7 January 2005 Hugh Orde, the service's Chief Constable, issued an interim report in which he blamed the Provisional IRA for the robbery.[3] The British and Irish governments concurred with Orde's assessment, as did the Independent Monitoring Commission (the body appointed by the Irish and British governments to oversee the Northern Ireland ceasefires).[4][5] Sinn Féin, however, denied the Chief Constable's claim, saying the IRA had not conducted the raid and that Sinn Féin officials had not known of or sanctioned the robbery. Martin McGuinness said that Orde's accusation represented "nothing more than politically-biased allegations.... This is more to do with halting the process of change which Sinn Féin has been driving forward than with anything that happened at the Northern Bank".[3] Bertie Ahern, the Irish Taoiseach, on the other hand, said that "an operation of this magnitude... has obviously been planned at a stage when I was in negotiations with those that would know the leadership of the Provisional movement".[3]

On 18 January 2005 the Provisional IRA issued a two-line statement denying any involvement in the robbery: "The IRA has been accused of involvement in the recent Northern Bank robbery. We were not involved".[6]

Despite this denial of involvement from the Provisional IRA, and others by its supporters, it has been widely believed in Northern Ireland, especially in unionist and loyalist circles, that the raid was the work of the IRA,[7] [8] and intended by them as a means of securing a pension fund for its active service members, who have been largely unemployed since the promulgation of the Good Friday Agreement.[9] [10]

Insurance

At the time of the raid, Northern Bank was owned by National Australia Bank although a deal had been signed to sell the bank to Danske Bank in the following year, 2005. This meant that all the costs of the raid were taken by National Australia Bank and not Northern Bank.

Cash Centre

Northern Bank later closed its Cash Centre operations.

Arrests and investigation developments

10 February

On 10 February the houses of Liam and Michael Donnelly were searched in connection with the robbery but nothing was found on the business premises either.[11]

17 February

On 17 February the Gardaí announced it had arrested seven people and recovered over £2 million, including £60,000 in Northern Bank notes, during raids in the Cork and Dublin areas, as part of ongoing investigations into money laundering. The Gardaí did not officially confirm that the raids were related to the Northern Bank robbery, but made the arrests under the Offences Against the State Act, the republic's chief anti-terrorism law.[12] Those arrested are reported to include several men from Derry and a former Sinn Féin councillor. A suspected Real IRA member was arrested at Heuston Station, along with two others. Money to the sum of €94,000 was found in their vehicle, in a washing powder box.[13] One of the men, Don Bullman from Co. Cork, was charged on 18 February at the Special Criminal Court with IRA membership.[14] He was jailed for IRA membership but never charged in connection with the Northern Bank robbery.

18 February

On 18 February, Gardaí in Passage West arrested a man found to be attempting to burn sterling banknotes.[15] Two men in Dublin were released from questioning, as was the Sinn Féin member in Cork.[13][16]

A top Irish businessman and associate of the Taoiseach, Phil Flynn, stepped down from a number of positions pending the outcome of a Gardaí investigation into Chesterton Finance, of which he is a non-executive director. He stepped down as chairman of a government body overseeing decentralisation, as well as giving up a position on the board of VHI and as chairman of the Bank of Scotland (Ireland).[17]

The PSNI recovered £50,000 in unused Northern banknotes at Newforge Country Club, a sports and social club in Belfast for off-duty and retired police officers, owned by the PSNI's Athletic Association. The PSNI stated it was a diversion, but it is being investigated.[18]

19 February

Police confirm the money found at the Newforge Country Club was part of the £26 million from the bank robbery.[19]

October 2005

On 12 October, Garda Commissioner Noel Conroy told a law enforcement conference in Dublin that he was satisfied that the money recovered in Cork in February came from the Northern Bank robbery.[20]

November 2005

On 2 November the PSNI arrested two men in Kilcoo, County Down, as part of a pre-planned operation in connection with the robbery. Sinn Féin's Willie Clarke says that the two arrested are not members of his party.[21]

On 3 November three more people were arrested in Belfast, Dungannon and Coalisland, bringing the total number of people arrested during the operation to five. All five were questioned in the PSNI's Serious Crime Suite in Antrim police station. It was reported that in the early hours of the morning, crowds blocked the road between Castlewellan and Newry near Kilcoo with burnt-out vehicles.[21]

Hugh Orde has defended the police action as "proportionate" and has given his full backing to the detectives handling the operation. Sinn Féin MP Michelle Gildernew condemned the raids as a "political stunt".[21]

One of the five arrested during Tuesday and Wednesday has been released. The individual arrested in Dungannon was named as Brian Arthurs, a member of Sinn Féin and brother of Declan Arthurs, an IRA member killed at Loughgall in 1987.[22]

On 7 November, Martin McAliskey, a 42-year-old Coalisland man, was charged with making false statements to police in relation to a white Ford Transit van allegedly used in the robbery.[23]

On 29 November police investigating the raid arrested Chris Ward and searched his home. They also confirmed that another bank employee, an unnamed 23 year old woman, was also arrested on the same day.[24]

December 2005

On 2 December PSNI raided Casement Park, the Gaelic Athletic Association stadium in Belfast, and the related Social Club. The outraged GAA reported the matter to the Irish government.[25]

On 7 December, Chris Ward, one of the Northern Bank employees whose family was held hostage, was charged with the robbery. Belfast Magistrates' Court was told that the prosecution case was based on Ward's actions in the days preceding and during the raid, and a suspicious work rota, as well as discrepancies in Ward's original statements to police. Ward denied the charge and said that police had harassed him and his family in an attempt to frame him. He also complained that he had been held in police custody for an unprecedented eight days under the Criminal Justice Act before being charged.[26]

3 January 2007

All charges against Dominic McEvoy and Martin McAliskey are dropped by the Public Prosecution Service. Hugh Orde describes the developments as a setback. Chris Ward is remanded on bail until 31 January, when he will appear before the court again.[27]

October 2007

A date of September 2008 was set for the trial of Chris Ward, in connection with the robbery. He is charged with robbery and two further charges of false imprisonment. [28]

October 2008

On 9 October Christopher Ward was acquitted of the charges of false imprisonment and robbery. The judge discharged him after the prosecution said it would be offering no more evidence.[29]

March 2009

On 27 March, financial adviser Ted Cunningham from Cork was found guilty of laundering over three million pounds sterling which came from the robbery.[30]

References

  1. ^ Kevin Myers (26 December 2004). "The price of peace? £22m in cash". London: The Daily Telegraph. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/opinion/main.jhtml?xml=/opinion/2004/12/26/do2606.xml. Retrieved 2007-03-11. 
  2. ^ Owen Bowcott & Ted Oliver (22 December 2004). "£20m stolen in UK's biggest bank robbery - was it paramilitaries or common criminals?". London: The Guardian. http://www.guardian.co.uk/Northern_Ireland/Story/0,2763,1378547,00.html. Retrieved 2007-03-11. 
  3. ^ a b c "Police say IRA behind bank raid". BBC. 7 January 2005. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/northern_ireland/4154657.stm. Retrieved 2007-03-11. 
  4. ^ Fraser Nelson (3 February 2005). "Crisis as IRA vows to keep weapons". The Scotsman. http://thescotsman.scotsman.com/index.cfm?id=128502005. Retrieved 2007-03-11. 
  5. ^ Dan McGinn (11 March 2005). "Alert as Northern Bank swaps cash". The Scotsman. http://news.scotsman.com/topics.cfm?tid=1233&id=268242005. Retrieved 2007-03-11. 
  6. ^ Alan Erwin (18 February 2005). "Gang threatened to kill abductees and families". Irish Examiner. http://archives.tcm.ie/irishexaminer/2005/02/18/story359672846.asp. Retrieved 2007-03-11. 
  7. ^ "Bank robbery tops talks agenda". BBC News. 25 January 2005. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/northern_ireland/4203959.stm. Retrieved 20 May 2010. 
  8. ^ Burning Bush - Sinn Fein — totally unfitted for government in Northern Ireland!
  9. ^ Lister, David (29 December 2004). "Proceeds of 40m bank theft could pay IRA pensions". The Times (London). http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article406556.ece. Retrieved 20 May 2010. 
  10. ^ "The price of piece". The Guardian (London). 6 March 2005. http://observer.guardian.co.uk/magazine/story/0,11913,1431204,00.html. Retrieved 20 May 2010. 
  11. ^ "Nothing found in bank raid search". BBC. 10 February 2005. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/northern_ireland/4252233.stm. Retrieved 2008-09-02. 
  12. ^ "Irish police raids net millions". BBC. 18 February 2005. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/northern_ireland/4276435.stm. Retrieved 2007-03-11. 
  13. ^ a b Angelique Chrisafis (19 February 2005). "Sinn Féin in crisis following laundering arrests". London: The Guardian. http://www.guardian.co.uk/Northern_Ireland/Story/0,2763,1418064,00.html. Retrieved 2007-03-11. 
  14. ^ "Man held in Cork in money laundering probe". RTÉ. 18 February 2005. http://www.rte.ie/news/2005/0218/moneylaundering.html. Retrieved 2007-03-11. 
  15. ^ "Gardaí in Cork release man without charge". RTÉ. 20 February 2005. http://www.rte.ie/news/2005/0220/moneylaundering.html. Retrieved 2007-03-11. 
  16. ^ David McKittrick (20 February 2005). "Stolen cash found in police club as Sinn Féin is tainted by IRA scandals". London: The Independent. http://news.independent.co.uk/uk/ulster/article12033.ece. Retrieved 2007-03-11. 
  17. ^ Kieran McDaid (19 February 2005). "Bank of Scotland chief denies laundering cash". The Scotsman. http://news.scotsman.com/topics.cfm?tid=1233&id=189872005. Retrieved 2007-03-11. 
  18. ^ "PSNI confirms discovery of Northern Bank notes". RTÉ. 19 February 2005. http://www.rte.ie/news/2005/0219/moneylaundering.html. Retrieved 2007-03-11. 
  19. ^ "Northern Bank Robbery Update". Police Service of Northern Ireland. 19 February 2005. Archived from the original on 2007-12-15. http://web.archive.org/web/20071215225247/http://www.psni.police.uk/index/media_centre/press_releases/pg_press_releases_2005/pr_2005_february/pr_update_northern_bank_190205.htm. Retrieved 2007-03-11. 
  20. ^ "Gardaí say Cork money linked to bank raid". RTÉ. 12 October 2005. http://www.rte.ie/news/2005/1012/crime.html. Retrieved 2007-03-11. 
  21. ^ a b c "Five now held over £26m robbery". BBC. 3 November 2005. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/northern_ireland/4403490.stm. Retrieved 2007-03-11. 
  22. ^ Geneviève Roberts (4 November 2005). "Northern Bank heist suspect charged". London: The Independent. http://news.independent.co.uk/uk/crime/article324657.ece. Retrieved 2007-03-11. 
  23. ^ "Further arrest over Northern Bank raid". RTÉ. 7 November 2005. http://www.rte.ie/news/2005/1107/bank.html. Retrieved 2007-03-11. 
  24. ^ "Two held over £26m bank robbery". BBC. 29 November 2005. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/northern_ireland/4480582.stm. Retrieved 2007-03-11. 
  25. ^ "GAA raid 'linked to £26m robbery'". BBC. 2 December 2005. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/northern_ireland/4276435.stm. Retrieved 2007-03-11. 
  26. ^ "Bank raid accused in frame claim". BBC. 7 December 2005. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/northern_ireland/4505620.stm. Retrieved 2007-03-11. 
  27. ^ "Northern Ireland bank robbery charges dropped". London: The Independent. 3 January 2007. http://news.independent.co.uk/uk/ulster/article2122241.ece. Retrieved 2007-03-11. 
  28. ^ Man to be tried next year over Northern Bank robbery - National News, Breaking News - Independent.ie
  29. ^ "Northern Bank accused is acquitted". RTÉ. 9 October 2008. http://www.rte.ie/news/2008/1009/northernbank.html. Retrieved 2008-10-09. 
  30. ^ "NCunningham found guilty of laundering bank money". Irish Times. 27 March 2009. http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/breaking/2009/0327/breaking5.htm. Retrieved 2009-03-27. 

See also

  • Portuguese Bank Note Crisis - a 1925 crime with comparable political and economic repercussions
  • List of famous bank robbers and robberies

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