Page last updated at 15:20 GMT, Friday, 24 April 2009 16:20 UK

Robbery's many ramifications

Shane Harrison
By Shane Harrison
BBC News, Dublin

CCTV pictures in late December 2005 captured the robbery in progress at the Northern Bank in the centre of Belfast.

The biggest, at the time, in British and Irish history.

CCTV image of employee forced to move money
Bank employees were forced to help move money from the bank

Twenty six-and-a-half million pounds stolen and an investigation with far reaching consequences.

The police forces on both sides of the border were in no doubt about who carried it out.

Sir Hugh Orde, the Chief Constable of the PSNI, said a month after the raid: "In my opinion the Provisional IRA were responsible for this crime and all main lines enquiry currently undertaken are in that direction."

As evidence was being gathered the then Taoiseach Bertie Ahern also blamed the IRA.

"It was, obviously, being planned at a time when I was in negotiations with those that would know the leadership of the Provisional movement and that raises questions, questions that concern me," he said.

That brought a sharp response from the Sinn Fein President, Gerry Adams.

"Now the Taoiseach really believes, and he made the remark, and he told me he made it in a considered way then he has no option but to have us arrested, to put up or shut up on this issue," he said.

But even as ministers were pointing out that in a democratic society no Taoiseach can order an arrest events were moving fast.

Prosecution said the money came from the Northern Bank raid in Belfast
The money came from the Northern Bank raid in Belfast

Detectives investigating suspected IRA money laundering arrested two Londonderry men and a Cork man near Heuston train station in Dublin.

Inside their vehicle Gardai found 94,000 euro hidden in a Daz soap powder box.

Two years later in 2007 the Cork chef, Don Bullman, was given four years for IRA membership. The two Derry men were released without charge.

By then the IRA had decommissioned and stood down.

But before that in follow up searches in February 2005 in Cork, after Bullman's arrest, detectives found £2.3m in six holdalls and a plastic bag in the home of Ted Cunningham, a money-lender.

In custody he admitted knowing the money was from the Northern Bank robbery and said he got around £5m from a Northern Ireland man on four occasions around or just after the time of the robbery.

He also told detectives he and a former Sinn Fein Cork councillor, Tom Hanlon had handled the cash in Cunningham's house.

The money came from the Northern Bank raid in Belfast
Some of the money from the raid was found in Cunningham's house

But during his trial the 60-year-old told a different story - one that last month didn't convince the jury of seven men and five women.

Denying charges of laundering more than £3m he said the money in his home came from three Bulgarians who wanted to buy a gravel pit from him and said he only made his admission in Garda custody because of fear for his life.

In custody Cunningham named Phil Flynn, a former Sinn Fein Vice-President and a former leading banker in the Republic, as the boss behind the operation.

Mr Flynn, who strongly denies the claim, was not charged.

Nor was Katherine Nelson who went on hunger strike in the Isle of Man, two years ago protesting her innocence.

Cunningham alleged she was the contact and organiser with Mr Flynn, a claim she also strongly denies.

"My life has been destroyed, totally, utterly and absolutely, my good name, financially," she said.

"And from what I can see it was done for the hell of it. I want a full clearance of my name, an apology and I want financial acceptance that they have done wrong."

Cunningham's 33-year-old son, Timothy, pleaded guilty near the start of the trial to money-laundering Northern Bank robbery money, an option the father rejected.

Cunningham, by his own admission in custody was not the main man and Gardai now accept he wasn't a paramilitary member, but he is the biggest name behind bars charged in connection with the robbery that many believe undid the IRA.



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