A bank employee’s partner was tied up and his baby held hostage before he was forced to steal £200,000 (€293,000) from a Belfast bank, it emerged tonight.
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.
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 £26.5m 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 the £50m 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 Northern Bank raid in Belfast City Centre, two members of staff had their homes raided and family members were held hostage.
The IRA, which was blamed by a PSNI Chief Constable Hugh Orde for the Northern Bank robbery, has in the past held hostage employees’ families in robberies.
In May 2004, the Macro wholesalers warehouse in Belfast had £1m stolen from it while a member of staff was held hostage.
A similar tactic was used in October 2004, hen a gang held an employee’s family in the Ardoyne area of North Belfast while forcing him to open up a tobacco warehouse on an industrial estate, less than five miles away.
The cigarette heist netted the IRA around £2m.
However, police tonight were careful not to attribute the IRA to this latest bank robbery.
The Ulster Bank said it was unable to disclose the amount involved or reveal whether the money taken was used notes.
A bank spokesman said: “Ulster Bank confirms that there has been an incident at its Carlisle Circus branch.
“The Police Service for Northern Ireland is currently investigating the incident and we will continue to liaise closely with them throughout their investigations.
“We can confirm the safety of our employees and that no customers were involved.”
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 North.
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.
“I think that, in the circumstances, the community must cooperate fully with the police in the investigation of this crime.”
He added: “It is enormously disturbing for any bank employee and their families to have this threat hanging over them when they are carrying out a public service.”