A MASSIVE manhunt is under way for a north Dublin gang suspected of carrying out yesterday’s €7.2 million tiger kidnapping and bank robbery, the biggest in the history of the state.
The gangsters, several of whom are out on bail facing serious armed crime charges, are believed to have staged the raid to set themselves up a “retirement stash”.
The dawn heist sent shock waves through the banking sector and pressure mounted on Bank of Ireland to explain how the huge sum of cash was so easily accessed.
The gang forced employee Shane Travers, 24, to remove the cash from the bank’s central College Green branch while holding his partner and others hostage.
Justice Minister Dermot Ahern said the bank had failed to follow established protocols during the robbery. It emerged gardaí were not alerted until after the money was removed from the bank. Mr Ahern said other employees at the branch were aware of what was happening.
Questions were raised as to how one employee had managed to enter the bank and remove more than €7m within just 15 minutes and drive away. Mr Travers worked in the bank’s vault.
The dramatic chain of events began late on Thursday night in Kildare when six masked men armed with handguns burst into the Kilteel home of Stephanie Smith, the girlfriend of Mr Travers.
She was hit with a vase as the gangsters — all wearing black and described as heavily built — held the bank employee, Ms Smith, her mother, Joan, and Joan’s five-year-old grandson at gunpoint overnight.
Just before dawn, the gang bungled the family into a van and drove away.
Shortly afterwards Mr Travers was ordered to drive to Dublin. He filled his red sports car with the cash in four laundry bags, driving to the delivery point at Clontarf DART Station where the vehicle was handed over to a gang member. Gardaí were only alerted after Mr Travers went into the local station.
An hour later in Meath, his girlfriend and her family managed to untie themselves in their captor’s van in Ashbourne, alerting local gardaí. No one was seriously injured but the family was said to be traumatised and Ms Smith needed medical care.
While gardaí are officially keeping an open mind, detectives are focusing their investigation on one north Dublin gang led by a man in his 60s. A number of the suspects are currently on bail facing charges on a serious armed crime.
Bank worker representatives called for a review of banking security procedures, warning that other gangs would target weaknesses in the system.
The Bank of Ireland premises at College Green acts as a “cash store” and would have been a major distribution point for wages and branch deliveries for the last Friday in the month yesterday.
New Bank of Ireland chief Richard Boucher emailed staff saying their security was a priority. He also reminded them to follow agreed steps to foil tiger kidnaps.
Gardaí want the public’s help tracing the vehicles involved in the operation, including the use of the Smith family’s black Volkswagon Golf (05 D 33720) and silver Volkswagen Polo (00 KE 2843), which are still missing.
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