Bank robbers posed as police to fool families

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The Independent Online

The armed gang that pulled off one of Britain's biggest bank robberies began the audacious heist by posing as policemen and convincing bank officials to allow them into their home, police revealed yesterday.

The robbers, who made away with £22m after holding the families of two Northern Bank workers for nearly 24 hours, gained access to the home of a bank executive, Kevin McMullan, late on Sunday by saying a relative had been killed in a road accident.

Once in, they put a gun to Mr McMullan's head and tied him up. His wife, Karen, was blindfolded and driven to an unknown location. Mr McMullan's junior, who the men had abducted from his west Belfast home in front of his terrified family, was then bought in.

Both men were told they must comply with the gang's plans to plunder the bank's Belfast City Centre headquarters, or their relatives would be killed. It also emerged yesterday that the owners of the bank, National Australia Bank, will have to bear the cost of the robbery.

Police are expected to apply urgent pressure to police informants in both the criminal and paramilitary underworld but are maintaining that it was not yet possible to say whether the raid was carried out by a criminal gang or a paramilitary group. A team of 45 detectives has been assigned to finding the 20-strong gang.

Detective Superintendent Andy Sproule, who is leading the investigation, said the gang questioned the two men separately, showing "a knowledge of the bank and the banking system", adding "this was a carefully planned operation by professional criminals." The men were "forensically aware", he said, dressing the woman in blue overalls and trainers to help avoid leaving traces, and cleaning up to avoid leaving fingerprints or other evidence.

Their plan was executed the following day. At noon Mr McMullan and his junior went to work and did not raise the alarm. At six o'clock that evening, in what police believe may have been a dry run to test whether anyone had informed the police, one of the employees left the bank carrying more than £1m in new notes in a holdall and handed it to another man. Half an hour later, the gang performed their heist.

Late on Monday night Mrs McMullan raised the alarm when she went to a house 15 minutes from her home after having been dropped off in a remote country spot, her car having been burnt by the men.

But the gang may have to dump £13m because the serial numbers of the notes, which are unused and only circulated in Northern Ireland, are known.