No One Faces Jail over the Biggest Bank Robbery in Irelands History; (1) Dummy Run: CCTV of Mr Ward Exiting the Bank with E1.25m (2) Free: Northern Bank Employee Chris Ward Leaving Court Yesterday
Byline: David Williams
THE only man accused of Irelands biggest bank robbery walked free from court in Belfast yesterday after the collapse of his showpiece trial.
Bank worker Chris Ward was said to have provided inside information to the gang which escaped with e33.5million from the Northern Bank in December 2004. But amid dramatic scenes in Belfast Crown Court prosecutors announced they would be offering no further evidence.
Police blamed the robbery on the Provisional IRA and yesterdays trial collapse means whoever carried out the meticulously-planned heist has, in the words of one bank official, got clean away with it.
Mr Ward was labelled the inside man by prosecutors, but he never faced any charge of IRA membership. He denied any role in the robbery and yesterday left Belfasts Crown Court a free man. The acquittal sparked bitter recriminations, with Sinn F?in claiming the decision to charge Mr Ward had been politically motivated and raised disturbing questions about the competence of police and prosecutors in the North.
It is the third major case in which the authorities have failed to gain convictions no one has yet been convicted over the Omagh bomb massacre or the murder of Robert McCartney, and the collapse of the Northern Bank case only adds to their embarrassment.
The robbery took place at a hugely sensitive time, dealing a major blow to the peace process as the Irish, British and U.S. governments tried to broker a fragile political agreement in the North.
After the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, attempts to establish a power-sharing government at Storm o n t s t a l l e d o v e r u n i o n i s t demands for IRA decommissioning and an allegation of IRA spying. A maelstrom of other violent acts and political rows also threatened to derail the process.
By late 2004 the governments and the parties were edging towards a deal to finally complete the complex political balancing act but their painstaking work was about to implode, as under cover of darkness masked gangs arrived at the homes of two Northern Bank employees.
It was on Sunday, December 19 that three masked men arrived at the Ward family home in Poleglass, west Belfast, where the banker sat with his mother, father, his brother and his brothers girlfriend.
Two men held the family hostage while Mr Ward was driven to the home of his supervisor Kevin McMullan, who was already being held. …