'No evidence' against final man accused of Northern Bank robbery
There is no evidence against the only man now facing charges in connection with the December 2004 robbery of the Northern Bank in Belfast, according to his solicitor.
Solicitor Niall Murphy has told Village that there is no evidence against his client, Chris Ward, other than that he is an employee of the bank who transferred Stg£26m (€38m) from the bank vaults to a white transit van on the evening of the robbery, 20 December 2004.
On 3 January a lawyer for the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) withdrew charges against two other men, Dominic McEvoy, 23, a builder from Kilcoo, Co Down and Martin McAliskey, 40, a salesman of Coalisland, Co Tyrone. No reasons were given by the PPS for the decision to withdraw the charges, which was described as a “setback” by PSNI chief constable Hugh Orde.
According to Niall Murphy of Belfast solicitors Kevin Winters & Co, who represented Dominic McEvoy, the charges were dropped against his client because of either an absence of acceptable evidence in the case or for other political reasons.
Dominic McEvoy was arrested in November 2005 and charged with theft and with the unlawful detention of bank official Kevin McMullan and his wife Karen at their home in Loughinisland, Co Down. The charges were based on a claim by the PSNI that a hat found near the scene of the kidnapping contained traces of McEvoy's DNA profile.
“The sole evidence against Dominic McEvoy related to low copy number DNA being found on a hat at the scene. In an unrelated trial a forensic expert has recently testified that low copy number DNA is not of sufficient quality to be used as the sole evidence in any criminal prosecution,” Niall Murphy told Village.
The charges against his co-accused, Martin McAliskey, were also withdrawn due to a lack of evidence linking him with the bank robbery, the largest in British or Irish history.
McAliskey, a car repair and salesman, was accused of withholding information and making false statements to police in relation to a white Ford Transit van alleged to have been used in the theft of the bank at Donegall Square in Belfast. However, there was no evidence linking him to the specific van used in the robbery, which has never been found.
The only man now facing charges in connection with the theft, Chris Ward, has claimed that he is totally innocent and that he is a victim in the affair. His family were held at gunpoint at their home in Poleglass while Ward and his bank colleague, Kevin McMullan, cleared out the vault during a busy shopping day in Belfast city centre.
Ward later gave an interview to BBC NI during which he described his ordeal and protested his innocence. During an earlier remand hearing he complained through his solicitors that he and his wife had been followed while on holidays in Spain by undercover security officers. Prosecutors claimed that the charges are based on his actions on the days before and during the raid, a suspicious work rota and discrepancies in his original statements to the police.
“I said in court that we are angry that the PPS is proceeding with these charges against Chris Ward,” Niall Murphy said. “The basis of their case appears to be a loose interpretation of a series of coincidences. He is a victim of the crime. His home was taken over and he was told that his family would be damaged if he did not co-operate with the gang responsible.”
At one point, Chris Ward was arrested and held for more than the usual seven days' detention used by the police and security forces in the North. The GAA grounds at Casement Park, in west Belfast, where he worked part-time, were also raided during the investigation.