Garda anger at bank's ransom payment

Thu, Aug 31, 2006, 01:00

Senior gardaí have expressed concern at National Irish Bank's decision to pay an estimated €270,000 ransom to an armed gang who kidnapped the family of a bank official rather than alert gardaí to the unfolding crime.

Sources said it "completely undermined" the Garda's chances of apprehending the gang while the incident was in progress.

"It sends a very dangerous message out to other people who may be planning similar attacks," said one senior Garda source.

Concerns about the bank's tactics come as the Irish Bank Officials' Association (IBOA) is requesting a meeting with Minister for Justice Michael McDowell to discuss extra security measures to protect its members against hostage incidents.

"It is clear that there is a growing trend whereby bank staff are regarded as particularly vulnerable and viewed as a 'soft target' by criminal gangs," said IBOA general secretary Larry Broderick.

The association now wants Mr McDowell to establish a security working group involving the Garda, Department of Justice and banking and security industries.

"[ The] IBOA believes this body should have as its main remit an examination of practical measures that will enhance the security and safety of staff and their families," Mr Broderick said.

Mr McDowell said the robbery was deplorable and underlined the importance of recent increases in funding for the criminal justice system.

A spokesman said any request for a meeting from the IBOA would be considered. However, he said gardaí already worked closely with the financial sector on matters of security.

In Tuesday's incident, NIB management gave a 23-year-old employee €270,000 from the safe in its Killester branch in Dublin to give to an armed gang who was holding his mother and two teenage sisters hostage.

The money was driven by the man to a prearranged drop-off point in Clontarf at 10.30am. He left the money and car keys in the vehicle and walked away.

Gardaí only became aware of the incident when the man's mother and one of his sisters managed to get to a house in the Donaghmede area and raise the alarm at 11.43am.

By the time gardaí knew what was happening, the gang and money had disappeared. The family were first taken prisoner in their Baldoyle home at 9.30pm on Monday.

A number of Garda officers who spoke to The Irish Times on condition of anonymity said the bank's decision to give the employee the money undermined strategies for such situations agreed between the force and the financial sector.

"We have a lot of people trained in crime prevention, some of whom have been sent overseas for training at considerable expense, and this would have been exactly the kind of situation that they would have been trained to deal with," said one senior officer.

"All of the banks have been given safety lectures in relation to crime prevention. We weren't told about this incident until 14 hours after it started."

When asked about the reservations being expressed, a spokeswoman for NIB said the bank could not comment on any aspect of the case because it was now the subject of a Garda investigation. A spokesman in Copenhagen for NIB's owner, Danske Bank, also declined to comment.