The IRA was responsible for the £26million Northern Bank robbery, Northern Ireland Chief Constable Hugh Orde said today – sparking immediate repercussions for hopes of political progress.
Mr Orde said it was a violent and brutal crime, not a Robin Hood effort, which would have national and international implications.
But with the Northern Bank confirming the decision to withdraw its total paper note currency estimated to be £300 million, he said was the largest theft ever of waste paper.
Mr Orde said that a total of Â£26.5million had been stolen - Â£4million more than thought originally. He accepted there would be consequences from his assessment but stressed they were for others to deal with.
He said: "On the basis of the investigative work we have done to date, evidence we have collected and exhibits we have collected and bringing that all together and working through it, in my opinion the Provisional IRA were responsible for this crime and all main lines of inquiry currently undertaken are in that direction."
A spokesman for 10 Downing Street said: "The Prime Minister takes this development very seriously.
"He has made it repeatedly clear over the past two years that the political institutions in Northern Ireland can only be restored if there is a complete end to all paramilitary activity by those involved, and that includes all criminal activity.
"He fully supports the Chief Constable in his efforts to bring those responsible for this major crime to account."
Mr Orde said it was a serious, violent and dangerous crime and police were acting on information and lines of inquiry.
His decision to blame the IRA was not, he insisted, because of political bias.
He added: "This is an operational decision. It is my decision. It is made because we need to get on with the investigation. The peace process is a matter for others."
The chief constable confirmed that more than 45 detectives were involved in what he said was a complex and complicated inquiry which involved civilian analysts and forensic experts.
They had amassed 560 exhibits and carried out 100 interviews, with another 100 planned. Detectives, he said, were working round the clock, acting on substantial intelligence in a bid to apprehend the robbers.
Unionists immediately denounced the Republican movement.Reuse content