Fri, Dec 24, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Robbers' stunning success a result of meticulous plans

HIGHLY SOPHISTICATEDPolice in Northern Ireland said the gang of at least 10 robbers were skilled professionals who were well prepared and covered their tracks

THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

Police Service of Northern Ireland Detective Superintendent Andy Sproule displays Northern Ireland bank notes on Wednesday after a press conference on the recent robbery at the Northren Bank main branch on Wellington Street in Belfast, Northern Ireland. More than ?22 million was taken in Monday's dramatic robbery.

PHOTO: AFP

Detectives investigating the largest bank robbery in the UK revealed Wednesday that the criminals had detailed knowledge of the bank and had posed as police officers.

The operation, which netted the gang at least ?22 million from the vault of the Northern Bank in central Belfast, Northern Ireland, was carefully planned and slickly executed; a large team was involved, police confirmed. The possible involvement of a paramilitary organization remains a "key line of inquiry."

At a press conference in Belfast, Detective Superintendent Andy Sproule said gang members had inveigled their way into the home of one of the bank officials by impersonating officers and pretending that a relative had been killed in a car crash. Once they were inside, a gun was put to the official's head and he was tied up. He was named yesterday as Kevin McMullan.

"This was a carefully planned operation by professional criminals who obviously had done their homework," said Detective Superintendent Sproule.

The robbery began at 10pm on Sunday evening when three masked men forced their way into a house in Poleglass, on the outskirts of West Belfast. A father, mother, two brothers -- one of them an official at the Northern Bank in Belfast -- and one of the younger men's girlfriends were in.

While two of the raiders stayed with the family -- they were to spend more than 24 hours there -- the young bank official, named as Chrissie Ward, was taken to a bungalow in County Down, where his supervisor lived.

The robbers then interrogated the two officials separately about the bank. They appeared to have knowledge of the bank and the banking system. At 11:30pm the wife of the supervisor was taken away. She was to be held blindfolded for almost 24 hours.

On Monday morning at 6.30am the masked men left the house in Downpatrick, having told the two bank officials what they were to do.

The officials arrived at work at noon and worked normally throughout the afternoon in the cash center, which is in the basement. The two were told to send the rest of the staff away early for Christmas shopping.

Shortly after 6pm, one of the two left the bank with a holdall, which was handed to a man wearing a hat and scarf. The holdall contained more than ?1 million in new notes.

Officers believe this might have been a "dry run" to test whether police were on to them.

Over the next couple of hours, cash was loaded into crates and boxes. On two occasions, between 7pm and 7:15pm and between 8pm and 8:15pm, a white van pulled up at one of the bank's entrances and took away large amounts of cash.

The van, an unusual vehicle with a tail lift, had been "ringed" - genuine number plates from another van had been put on it. The registration number was RCZ 6632. Police are examining CCTV tapes in hope of identifying gang members.

The gang involved, which had more than ten members, was highly professional. They were ?

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