Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Sensational Heists

Belfast's Northern Bank Robbery

On December 19, 2004, a gang of men disguised as police officers simultaneously broke into the homes of two Northern Bank officials, Chris Ward of Poleglass and Kevin McMullan of Loughin Insland, taking them and their families hostage. At some point that evening, Chris Ward was transferred at gunpoint to McMullens house, while his family remained captive in their home. At    McMullens house, his wife was forcibly removed from her home and taken to a forest south of Belfast. While family members were being held against their will, the hostage-takers gave McMullen and Ward precise orders on what they had to do the following day. 

Northern Bank
Northern Bank

The two bank officials did as they were told. They reported to work as if nothing were wrong on December 20. Then at the end of the day when everyone went home, the two men let members of the gang into the bank, giving them uninterrupted access to the vaults.  

Northern Ireland Bank Note
Northern Ireland Bank Note

The gang of robbers cleared out as much cash as they could, including currency in the form of euros, U.S. dollars and Northern Bank notes, before loading it into an awaiting white van. Once the vehicle was full, they sped off with the loot, only to return a second time to get more. By the time they were completed, the robbers had stolen an estimated $50 million. It was considered the biggest all-cash robbery in British history.

Hours later, McMullens wife Karen, who suffered horribly at the hands of the hostages, stumbled from the forest and managed to make her way to safety. She immediately informed the police of what happened, The Observer reported. It had been almost six hours since the bank had been plundered and the robbers were long gone. 

An investigation was immediately mounted. The BBC reported that early in the case, Chief Constable Hugh Orde suggested that the IRA was likely involved in the robbery. CBS News said it was a view shared by the British and Irish government and all other parties in both parts of Ireland.

Chief Constable Hugh Orde
Chief Constable Hugh Orde

According to the report, the group had the biggest reputation for mounting bank robberies. The IRA had been blamed for a similar May 2004 robbery of Northern Irelands biggest retail store, where hostages were taken and almost $8 million was stolen, CBS News said. However, the IRA flatly rejected all allegations of their involvement.

In February 2005, seven suspects, including a member of the IRA-linked Sinn Fein party, were arrested in the biggest of several coordinated raids targeting IRA money-laundering operations across the Republic of Ireland, said CBS News. More than $3 million dollars was seized during a search. The money was suspected to have been that stolen during the Northern Bank robbery, although police could not confirm it at the time.

That same month, around $100,000 was found in the toilet of the police athletic associations Newforge Country Club. The police later confirmed that the money was taken during the Northern Bank heist. The BBC reported that the stash was likely planted to distract detectives investigating the robbery and divert attention from events elsewhere.

The police continue to investigate, and hope to recover more of the stolen money. The BBC reported that Northern Bank has decided to exchange old Northern Bank money for notes with a new design and color. Thus, the old currency will eventually be rendered invalid, making it difficult for the robbers to spend some of their loot. Regardless, the thieves will still have enough euros and dollars left over to invest in whatever they choose.

 

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