Northern Bank robbery case collapses in Belfast
The man accused of the £26.5 million Northern Bank robbery in Belfast walked free from court today after charges against him were dropped.
The case against Chris Ward (26), collapsed amid dramatic scenes at Belfast Crown Court.
Mr Ward, from Colinmill, Poleglass, west Belfast had also denies also denied two charges of abducting banker Kevin McMullan and his wife Kyran during the robbery in December 2004.
Prosecutors claimed he was the inside man in the raid, which PSNI Chief Constable blamed on the Provisional IRA, a charged denied by Sinn Fén.
The trial, which started on September 9th, heard the families of Mr Ward and Mr McMullan were held hostage in their homes in west Belfast and Co Down while the key-holders for the bank’s vault went to work in December 2004.
Prosecution counsel Gordon Kerr QC said the case had been brought before the court based on circumstantial evidence.
“An essential strand related to the circumstances in which the defendant came to be on the rota of the late shift of the Northern Bank on the day of the robbery. (It was) Fundamental in the case to the prosecution inviting the court to draw inference from other parts of the case.”
He added that differences had arisen during the trial around the rota which prompted the rethink.
“Having considered the remaining evidence and the advice of counsel... it has been concluded that it would not be proper to make further submissions.”
Trial judge Mr Justice McLaughlin said: “I consider the decision of the Director for Public Prosecutions to be fully justified and proper.
“Given the decision to present no further evidence, I could not arrive at any other verdict and I conclude that Chris Ward is not guilty of the three counts in front of me.”
Mr Ward’s solicitor, Niall Murphy, said hs client was relieved that his innocence "has finally been vindicated".
He said Mr Ward and his family were devastated by the trial.
Sinn Féin Assembly member Alex Maskey claimed the decision to prosecute Mr Ward was politically motivated.
“This case was about trying to prove a political theory about who was responsible for this robbery. It was not about finding those who were responsible," he said. “It seems that the evidence against Mr Ward consisted of the fact that he was a Catholic living in west Belfast.”
Meanwhile, Northern Bank said this afternoon it was disppointed at the collapse of the trial into the robbery.
"The Northern Bank robbery was an extremely serious crime carried out by ruthless and dangerous criminals in a violent manner. It is disappointing that such a major crime remains unsolved. All those caught up in the robbery were traumatised by what happened and we would ask the press and media to respect their privacy at this time," the bank said in a statement.