A KIDNAP GANG escaped with a Irpounds 340,000 (pounds 320,000) ransom after abducting the wife of an Irish bank chief, their four children and a babysitter at gunpoint.
They were released unharmed after an 18-hour ordeal during which they were imprisoned in disused stables outside Dublin. Gardai yesterday stepped up security measures for senior business figures.
Detectives suspect a criminal gang based in Dublin was behind the plot, though paramilitary involvement has not been ruled out.
The gang of eight men armed with a rifle and pistols had been hiding in the gardens of the home of Jim Lacey, chief executive of the National Irish Bank, in south Dublin. They were waiting for him and his wife, Joan, to return from a branch opening in Co Tipperary in the early hours of Tuesday.
The couple had difficulty opening the door when they arrived at around 1.30am. As they entered they were pounced on by the masked gang and Mr Lacey was struck over the head. The four children, aged from 4 to 16, and their 21-year-old babysitter, Tanya Waters, were woken, told to dress and escorted downstairs one by one.
Around 5am an unmasked man, addressed as 'Joe' by the gang, arrived at the house in the affluent suburb of Blackrock. He told Mr Lacey, who had been tied up, that his 'Joe's' grandmother had been held for two weeks to force him to comply with their demands. Mr Lacey was shown Polaroid photographs of the woman.
Yesterday Gardai suggested the man, who appeared to Mr Lacey to be in a highly distressed state, may in fact have been the gang leader.
Chief Superintendent Des Malone described him as 5ft 8in, around 45 years old and with black hair combed back. He was dressed in a dark suit with a spotted tie.
Mrs Lacey, her children and the babysitter were taken blindfolded to disused stables on the west side of the city. The rest of the gang left at around 7am, leaving Mr Lacey and the man called 'Joe' with instructions to drive to Mount Merrion, two miles into the city, where they were to collect a green van left in a church car park.
They then drove to a National Irish Bank branch in the city centre. The ransom, in cash and bonds, was apparently given to 'Joe' to be delivered to the gang. Gardai were then alerted.
At around 6.40pm on Tuesday, Mr Lacey's family escaped by knocking a hole in the roof of the stables and shouting until they were heard by a local housewife.