Northern Bank raid 'had security failures'

A catalogue of security failures was uncovered at the Northern Bank in Belfast after the £26.5m (€33.4m) robbery, it was claimed today.

Arthur Harvey QC, defending the bank official charged with the robbery, said there was a failure by Maybin, the security company tasked with protecting the building, to properly control who went in and out.

Bank supervisor Chris Ward (aged 26, of Colinmill, Poleglass, on the outskirts of west Belfast, has been accused of the robbery and two counts of abducting a senior colleague who worked with him in the bank's cash centre, Kevin McMullen, and Mr McMullen's wife.

Ward denies all the charges.

Under cross-examination on his third day of giving evidence at Belfast Crown Court, Mr McMullen was asked by the QC: "Were you aware there was a failure by Maybin to control entry in and out of the building as well as the cash centre?"

Mr McMullen said he could not comment, but added: "Any time I entered, I had a pass which authorised me and, if it was not checked, it was clearly hanging on my belt."

He did say, however, that he had been responsible for reporting to security staff at Maybin that the double security doors into his department had been faulty for a number of weeks.

He told the court: "In theory, there was a risk anyone in the building could come in in the right conditions."

Listing what he described as a "catalogue of security failures", Mr Harvey asked him if he was aware that "senior executives on the fourth floor had the disabled access made by coded entry. That the alarm at the entrance was not only not used, but had never been activated".

He went on: "A panic alarm button was not only not used, but not connected."

Mr McMullen said he was unaware of such issues and, after being forced to help smuggle the money out of the bank, had always believed the raid had been conducted by people with inside knowledge.

He said: "I didn't think about defects in security. My thoughts have always been that someone within the cash centre provided the information."

The prosecution claims that Mr Ward was the inside man for the robbery gang.

They have alleged it was he who told the gang that Mr McMullen and himself would be the men with the keys to the vaults on the day that the robbery was staged.

The rota detailing who would have the keys for the late shift on the Monday the robbery was staged in December 2004 was not completed until the afternoon of the previous Friday - by Mr Ward.

However, Mr Harvey said the rota was pinned up on the inside of a door in the cash centre, where it was not only visible to the 35 or 40 people who worked there, but to cleaners and security staff and people working for a delivery company who had made regular collections.

Mr Harvey also revealed a member of the bank's staff had reported to police - in the wake of the robbery - that he had been approached in a pub and asked about the bank in the previous September.

Mr Harvey said the bank worker had been asked for details about the cash centre even though he did not normally work in it.

There was an indication that a robbery was being planned.

Mr McMullen said he was unaware of such information.

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