Heist Northern Bank robbery

What was the Northern Bank robbery? Who was behind the heist?

The BBC Two documentary airs tonight

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Heist: The Northern Bank Robbery tells the tale of one of the biggest heists to ever happen in the UK.

Robbers in Belfast managed to make off with a whopping £26.5 million.

Tonight (July 22), Northern Ireland journalists Darragh McIntyre and Sam McBride come together to try and shed new light on the robbery in the BBC Two documentary.

But how did it happen and were the criminals caught?

northern ireland bank robbery
The new BBC documentary aims to shed new light on the case (Credit: BBC)

What was the Northern Bank robbery and when did the heist happen?

The Northern Bank robbery took place on December 20, 2004, in Belfast.

Despite a massive investigation, the criminals who carried out the heist are still at large.

The gang of three men held the families of two Northern Bank workers hostage.

They then forced the two workers, who had access to the bank’s vault, to go to work.

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When the bank closed at 6pm, the two workers, Chris Ward and Kevin McMullan, stayed behind and let the gang in.

Kevin said previously: “It was easy to take £26.5 million outside to a van on the street, yes. We disguised it as rubbish.

“[You don’t need dynamite] you just need to take someone’s wife away from them.”

Over the next few hours, the gang managed to make off with £26.5 million in cash.

Most of their haul consisted of uncirculated banknotes, but it also included £8.85 million of used notes.

The timing and scale of the robbery came as a big blow to the Northern Ireland peace process. It was a huge setback to efforts to rebuild a fragile political deal.

northern ireland bank robbery
Ted Cunningham was sentenced to a decade behind bars (Credit: BBC)

Who was responsible for the robbery?

The specific men or women who carried out the crime remain on the loose.

Authorities created a team of more than 50 detectives in what became one of the biggest criminal investigations in UK history.

In 2005, police laid the blame for the heist on the IRA.

It was claimed all lines of enquiry led to the IRA, however, the organisation itself has repeatedly denied any involvement.

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Was it an inside job?

In the 17 years since the crime took place, only one man has ever been jailed.

Ted Cunningham, who denies any wrongdoing, was arrested in 2005. Officers seized £3 million at his home, and he was charged with 10 money laundering charges.

As a result, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2009.

Other experts, including the FBI, have maintained that the heist was an inside job.

Their belief led to bank worker Chris Ward being arrested in 2005 over the robbery.

However, he was later cleared of any involvement in the crime and was released without charge.

Heist: The Northern Bank Robbery airs on Thursday, July 22, 2021, at 9.30pm on BBC Two.

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