Belfast robbery began with lie, ended with freezing hike
December 22, 2004
BELFAST, Northern Ireland – On an icy, black Sunday night, police officers brought terrible news to the rural idyll of Kevin McMullan’s home: A relative had just been killed in a car crash, they said. It was a lie – and it launched one of the world’s biggest bank robberies.
Once inside, the phony officers put a gun to McMullan’s head and tied him up, blindfolded his wife, Karen, and then took her away at gunpoint in her own car into the forest.
They told McMullan, a senior executive at Northern Bank, that he must get the gang into the bank’s major cash vault the next night. If he or another abducted bank official, Chris Ward, refused to help or raised any alarm, their families would be put to death.
Police said Wednesday that the gang got away with more than 22 million pounds, or about $42 million, more than originally estimated. And the 45-strong detective task force admitted it would be hard to track down a gang that left no apparent forensic evidence during their meticulously planned heist.
Police didn’t learn of the crime until after 11 p.m. Monday, three hours after surveillance cameras recorded the gunmen’s cash-packed van disappearing down Belfast’s major highway. McMullen’s wife emerged from the forest to raise the alarm at a farmhouse.
Around the same time, gang members released the 23-year-old Ward’s mother, father, brother and brother’s girlfriend.
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“This was a carefully planned operation by professional criminals who obviously had done their homework,” Detective Superintendent Andy Sproule said.
Sproule said the gang took extensive precautions against leaving traces of their identities at either victim’s house or the bank.
“We have a long way to go before we have recovered the money or arrested the individuals,” he said.