Gang sought after bank manager forced to hand over €820,000


A north Dublin gang behind a number of recent high-profile robberies have emerged as the chief suspects in a daring raid yesterday in which the family of a bank manager was held at gunpoint and more than €800,000 taken from the bank where she works.

The robbery in Dublin follows a number of similar so-called tiger robberies in the city, which involve the kidnapping of personnel with access to large sums of money. It will further heighten concerns for the safety of bank staff.

The ordeal for the family at the centre of the latest robbery began on Monday night. Four armed and masked men broke into the home of bank manager Marie O'Neill at the Strand Hill estate near Clogherhead, Co Louth, at about 8pm.

Ms O'Neill, who is the bank manager at the Permanent TSB in Northside Shopping Centre, Coolock, was at home with her husband Eoin and two children Leanne (16) and Dara (11).

All four were bound with plastic cable ties around their hands and feet. The gang remained in the house until just after 9pm. At that point, two gang members took Ms O'Neill from the house. They put her into the back of the family's black Avensis car, placed a duvet over her head and drove her around all night before driving towards Dublin at around 6am.

The two raiders finally brought her to Grange Road, Raheny. They got out of the car and told Ms O'Neill to drive to work.

She was told by the raiders they would maintain contact with her by phone.

Ms O'Neill got to the Northside Shopping Centre at about 8am. She went into the branch and explained to her assistant manager what was unfolding. The pair opened the safe and the money was loaded into the car parked outside.

The vehicle was then driven by Ms O'Neill to nearby Clonshaugh Woods apartments on Clonshaugh Road after she received instructions by phone. She unloaded the bags, containing €800,000 and £20,000, into undergrowth down a laneway in Belcamp Park. Ms O'Neill was then told to drive to Chapel Road, Kinsealy, where she was reunited with her family. They were held overnight by the other two raiders in the family's second car, a black Landcruiser, in a disused cemetery.

Gardaí were alerted to the robbery just after 10.35am when they got telephone calls from both Ms O'Neill's family and Permanent TSB.

A spokesman for the bank said it had alerted gardaí immediately on becoming aware of the robbery. The spokesman added the bank was fully co-operating with gardaí. Garda sources said the raid was very well planned. A Garda source said: "They told her [ Ms O'Neill] to wear comfortable clothes and to bring her work uniform to change into, so everything would look as normal when she walked into the branch.

"They even made sandwiches in the house to bring with them overnight."

The chief suspects come from Coolock and Donaghmede. They are believed to have been behind the robbery of the NIB in Killester last month in which the family of a bank worker was kidnapped and €270,000 stolen.

The gang was also suspected for another recent robbery in which more than €1 million was taken.

However, gardaí said the investigation was at an early stage and that other suspects may emerge.

Gardaí want to speak to anybody who may have seen the black Avensis saloon, registration 05 D 32293, or the black Toyota Landcruiser, registration 04 LH 3034, in the Louth and north Dublin areas between 9pm on Monday and 10am yesterday.

Gardaí in Coolock can be contacted at 01-6664200.

Tiger trend: recent kidnap - or tiger - robberies

August 29th: The family of a bank official is held hostage by an armed gang in their home in Baldoyle, Dublin. The next morning he drives to work at the NIB in nearby Killester. His superiors agree to give him €270,000 which he drives to a drop-off point in Clontarf. The man's mother and sisters are then released by the gang from Balgriffin where they were being held. Gardaí are only alerted after the man's family go to a nearby house and raise the alarm.

May 3rd, 2005: Cork off-licence chain owner Gary O'Donovan is held hostage in his Rochestown home with his wife and four children. Gardaí believe the gang intended to bring him to his company headquarters next morning to access money. However, one of the raiders fell asleep and Mr O'Donovan was able to escape and alert gardaí.

March 14th, 2005: The family of Securicor worker Paul Richardson is held hostage in their home in Raheny, Dublin. He is forced to go to work next morning. He tells his colleagues what has unfolded and the van he drives, with more than €2 million, is taken to a drop-off point at Strawberry Beds. Mr Richardson's family is released unharmed in a wooded area in Wicklow.