Northern Bank trial opens
Northern Bank trial opens

The trial has begun before a juryless Diplock court in Belfast of a bank official for the robbery in 2004 of the Northern Bank.

The raid was one of the biggest cash robberies in the world and within days Chief Constable Sir Hugh Orde and the British and Irish governments had blamed the Provisional IRA. Sinn Féin denied republican involvement.

Some proceeds of the robbery, over fifty thousand pounds, were later uncovered at a PSNI police leisure centre on the outskirts of Belfast.

Christopher Ward, aged 26, has surprisingly gone before the court despite a prosecution admission this week that the case against him is circumstantial. He is accused of providing the bank raiders with inside knowledge which aided the theft.

The massive heist at one point threatened to collapse the peace process. But despite extensive claims at the time of the robbery, the trial has opened without any suggestion of involvement by the Provisional IRA or any other organisation.

Prosecutors told the court that Ward, who was in charge of drawing up the rota, had mysteriously put himself on duty on the late shift the following Monday with another official, Kevin McMullan.

On the day of the raid, both the Ward and McMullan households were held captive by bank raiders while the bank’s vaults were emptied. The prosecution has argued that Ward’s family was treated leniently by the gang, implying that Ward must have been a conspirator.

“It is clear from the evidence to be given by the McMullans that the robbers knew a considerable amount about them and their situation. This suggests, we would submit, a considerable degree of inside knowledge,” prosecutors added.

The prosecution is also claiming that Ward, who lived in a nationalist area of Belfast, had behaved unusually prior to the raid.

Knowledge of the keyholder rota was “an essential prerequisite of successfully launching the robbery in the way it was, clearly planned some time in advance.”

The father of the accused, Gerard Ward, indignantly dismissed the prosecution case as “ludicrous”.

During his evidence Mr Ward revealed that his whole family, including his son Christopher, underwent six months of counselling organised by the Northern Bank.

He said his son was never complicit in any robbery, nor would he put his family in the situation they found themselves in.

He also rejected the suggestion that the family had “a cosy relationship” with their captives.

“That’s completely wrong. It definitely wasn’t relaxing - it was very, very frightening,” he said.

The trial, which could last from six to eight weeks, continues next week.

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© 2008 Irish Republican News