Gang escapes with £6m after family’s ‘tiger kidnap’ ordeal

Employee forced to hand over bags of cash from Bank of Ireland in Dublin
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The Independent Online

The authorities in Dublin are shocked at a "tiger kidnapping" in which a bank employee handed over €7m (£6m) to a criminal gang. They were also angry that procedures which had been put in place after previous incidents had not been followed.

The thieves had forced the employee to bring them the money while holding his partner and two others hostage.

This incident was the biggest theft in the history of the Irish Republic but not of Ireland. It remains dwarfed by the IRA tiger kidnapping which netted £26m from the Belfast headquarters of the Northern Bank in 2004.

In the latest incident, bank official Shane Travers was ordered to go to the Bank of Ireland's premises at College Green in Dublin city centre. There, apparently unchallenged by other employees or security staff, he loaded his car with four large laundry bags full of cash and drove off.

The raid comes as authorities are investigating corporate wrongdoing at a senior level at another financial institution – the Anglo Irish Bank. Police moved in there earlier this week to investigate unexplained transactions which are said to be "in billions rather than millions".

Tiger kidnaps have become such a regular occurrence in recent years that a new law was introduced allowing police to hold suspects in custody for up to seven days.

In Northern Ireland the police website contains advice for those caught up in such incidents, assuring them of discretion and declaring: "The police will not arrive at the victim's house with lights and horns blazing or do anything to provoke a hostage situation."

In this most recent incident the money had gone before the police, were notified. The Travers family ordeal began at 6.30pm on Thursday when a gang of up to six men, wearing balaclavas and brandishing at least three handguns and a shotgun, burst into their house at Badger's Hill, Kilteel, Co Kildare near Dublin and terrorised Mr Travers, his girlfriend Stephanie Smith, her mother Joan Smith and Joan's five-year-old grandchild. Stephanie Smith had a vase smashed over her head before the two women and the child were bundled into a van at 5.30pm.

At 6.30am, they ordered Mr Travers to drive to the bank where it took him just 15 minutes to fill the bags with €7m. He then drove, as ordered, to a railway station, where he handed it over to a gang member. Ten minutes, later he alerted the gardai.

At about 8.30am, the hostages, who had been tied up in a van, were able to free themselves and made their way to a garda station. They were said to be extremely traumatised but did not suffer serious injury. A vehicle used in the raid was later found burnt out. The incident is regarded as yet another setback for a luckless government that is faring miserably in the opinion polls. It is also seen as a major security disaster.

The prime suspects include a Dublin gang which has tried similar raids in the past, though without much success. Its members are described as violent and dangerous. Some are awaiting trial on other offences – including a failed tiger raid in Galway in mid-February. Police will also be investigating whether or not the gang had inside help. The gang knew where Mr Travers lived and the fact that he had access to millions. Although banks employ increasingly sophisticated security technology, they seem powerless against tiger kidnappings.

The Irish Justice Minister, Dermot Ahern, held meetings with senior police and other security officials. He later said that proper procedures had not been followed. He said he was shocked that the operation could have been carried out as a result of the targeting of one man.

He added: "It is a fact that the gardai did not know about this incident until the money had left the bank premises. Under normal protocols, that should not be the case because the sooner the gardai can hear about this the sooner they can put in the necessary checkpoints."

In a similar incident last December, five men entered a house in Co Kildare and threatened the director of a cash delivery firm, together with his wife and daughter. He was forced to go to the firm's premises in Dublin, the gang escaping with more than a €1m.