By Paul O’Hare and Dan McGinn
A BANK employee’s partner was tied up and his baby held hostage before he was forced to steal £200,000 (€293,861) from a Belfast bank yesterday morning.
The man was awoken by three men at his home in Alliance Avenue, North Belfast, at 6.30am.
A hood was placed over his head and he was given a bag with which to remove money from the Ulster Bank in Carlisle Circus.
The man’s partner and one-year-old child were kept upstairs while he was given instructions downstairs.
Police said the man left his home two hours after his ordeal began and emerged from the bank shortly after 10am with the money. He then deposited the bag on a set of steps on nearby Henry Place.
The raid bore parallels with the £26.5 million (€39m) Northern Bank heist in December 2004, which has been blamed on the Provisional IRA.
But police sources have been unable to confirm if the Ulster Bank robbery is linked to a paramilitary group.
The North Belfast raid is also similar to Wednesday morning’s £50m (€73m) robbery on the Securitas depot in Kent.
In that heist, the manager of the depot, Colin Dixon, 51, was abducted by men posing as police officers.
Two further gang members dressed as police visited Mr Dixon’s Herne Bay home and duped his wife and son into believing that there had been an accident before taking them to a farm in west Kent where the depot manager was held. Later the family was taken to the depot to let the gang inside.
In the 2004 Northern Bank raid in Belfast city centre, two members of staff had their homes raided and family members were held hostage.
The Northern Bank robbery was the biggest in Britain and Ireland until the Securitas raid this week.
The IRA, which was blamed by PSNI Chief Constable Hugh Orde for the Northern Bank robbery, has in the past held hostage employees’ families hostage in robberies.
However, police last night were careful not to attribute this latest bank robbery to the IRA.
The DUP’s Nigel Dodds described the heist as an outrageous criminal act.
The North Belfast MP said: "Not only has there been £200,000 stolen but a family have had to endure an extremely terrifying ordeal at the hands of these gangsters.
"This bank robbery comes on the back of the 2004 IRA Northern Bank robbery in the city centre and the massive robbery in Kent.
"All these robberies bring into question the security arrangements in organisations such as banks which are prominent targets for robberies."
The SDLP’s Alban Maginnis said the raid would affect the business community in the city and across the province.
The North Belfast MLA said: "This is the latest attack on bank employees who are serving the community and are providing a very valuable service for the whole community.
"The taking of £200,000 represents an enormous robbery and will undermine confidence once again in the rule of law."
Anyone with information is asked to contact the PSNI on 0845 600 8000.