Bank worker who said he was taken hostage is detained over £26m heist

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The Independent Online

Police investigating last year's Northern Bank raid have arrested two bank employees, one of whom was allegedly held hostage during the £26m robbery.

Chris Ward, a 24-year-old employee at the bank, was detained yesterday morning at his West Belfast home by police who arrived in four armoured Land Rovers. In a separate raid, a 22-year-old woman also employed by the bank and said to be a friend of Mr Ward was taken in for questioning. They were taken to the Serious Crime Suite in Antrim by the police.

The robbery, one of the largest ever carried out in Europe, took place in December of last year, with IRA members cleaning out the bank's cash headquarters in the centre of Belfast. Although the IRA and Sinn Fein denied responsibility, the British and Irish governments said they were confident the IRA had carried out the operation.

A large police team has been working on the case for the past year, and in recent weeks 10 people have been detained across Northern Ireland.

Mr Ward has appeared on television describing the events surrounding the robbery and saying his home in the Poleglass district of West Belfast had been taken over by masked gunmen who warned him: "You and your family are dead," if he did not obey their commands. He was taken to the home of another bank employee and they were both ordered to go into the bank as usual the following day, but to facilitate the robbery by wheeling out large sacks filled with money.

Mr Ward said in his interview: "You had to act as if nothing was wrong. It was very difficult to do, but you knew in the back of your head that you had to do it, that you couldn't tell anybody. It was just terrifying. They knew where I lived, they knew my family, they knew my family's names, they knew about my brother and his girlfriend."

Mr Ward added: "The media don't say it directly, but there is an insinuation that because I am a West Belfast Catholic man that I must have been part of the robbery."

Three people have so far been charged in connection with the raid. One man has been charged with stealing £26m, and possessing a firearm and false imprisonment. Another man has been charged with attempting to pervert the course of justice by giving false statements to police, while a third is accused of collecting information likely to be of use to terrorists.