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Homes raided in hunt for bank's £22m

Police raided properties in north and west Belfast today in an attempt to recover the stolen £22 million Northern Bank cash.

By:Press Association
FRIDAY 24/12/2004 11:27:32

Teams of uniformed officers were called in as detectives intensified the hunt for the gang which pulled off one of the world`s biggest cash raids.

The Christmas Eve searches of residential and commercial properties- in heavy rain - were ordered as it emerged the bank could consider changing its entire note issue to thwart attempts to shift some of the missing money over the counter.

Northern Ireland chief constable Hugh Orde is under intense pressure to catch the gang, and searches in West Belfast today confirmed a growing belief that republicans, some possibly linked to the IRA, were involved.

There were no immediate reports of arrests but detectives clearly believe they could be close to a major breakthrough.

Authoritative sources also confirmed that the bank`s Australian owners may, at some stage, look to recall every Northern £5, £10, £20, £50 and £100 note in circulation in an unprecedented move to prevent the stolen cash being filtered into the economy.

Banking experts said such action might not be considered at such an early stage of the police inquiry but it is an option which could not be ruled out.

It would be a complex, difficult and seriously expensive operation taking a considerable time to complete.

But security sources revealed today that both police and the bank had discussed it.

One source said: "It`s the bank`s call. It`s out of police hands but it`s something they may want to do at some stage."

A banking expert said: "A product recall and changing the entire note issue would be an extremely drastic course of action. Implementing it now would effectively mean the bank giving up on the chances of the money ever being recovered.

"But it still has to be an option."

One of the properties searched today was a three-storey house at Holmdene Gardens, Ardoyne, a fiercely republican area with vast IRA support.

Forensic experts were brought in to carry out a full examination while armed officers stood guard outside.

The blinds were pulled on downstairs windows, while a child`s toy car sat next to a silver-coloured Golf in the driveway, which has ornate gates.

Police refused to make any comment at the scene.
Meanwhile, shops throughout Northern Ireland were on full alert today amid fears that the criminals may attempt to start passing some of the money in the last-minute Christmas sales rush.

At the same time the Northern Bank moved to reassure customers with banknotes in their wallets.

A spokesman for the bank said: "All Northern Bank notes will be honoured by the bank. These will include any notes that are the proceeds of the robbery but which have been handled by ordinary members of the public in good faith.

"If people have any suspicions about notes in their possession they should bring them to any local branch, where they will be replaced."

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