Police say IRA behind bank raid

The IRA has been blamed for the multi-million pound Northern Bank raid in Belfast.

Chief Constable Hugh Orde said that organisation was responsible after meeting key members of the Policing Board on Friday.

The Northern Bank has now reassessed the amount stolen from its head office on 20 December as £26.5m.

It now intends to withdraw most of its current notes and re-issue them in a different colour and style.

To date, police have made no arrests nor have they recovered any money from the raid, thought to have been one of the UK's biggest cash robberies.

Homes in republican areas of Belfast were searched in the days following the raid, but republicans have denied the IRA was involved.

'Operational decision'

Mr Orde has been under political pressure to state publicly if the IRA was involved.

He told a news conference in Belfast: "In my opinion the Provisional IRA were responsible for this crime and all main lines of inquiry currently undertaken are in that direction."

However, he said he had not bowed to any pressure to attribute blame to any organisation, but was doing so now because it made "operational sense".

Mr Orde also said the raid was not a victimless crime, but a "violent and brutal crime, not some Robin Hood effort".

The chief constable refused to be drawn on the likely political consequences of his announcement.

Soon after Mr Orde's news conference, Downing Street said the prime minister had made it repeatedly clear the political institutions could only be restored if there was a "complete end" to all paramilitary and criminal activity.

Meanwhile, the Northern Bank said it was to replace most of its current series of notes, in a move which will cost up to £5m.

In a statement it said all existing £10, £20, £50 and £100 notes are to be replaced, but the bank's polymer £5 notes will not be affected.

"All new notes will be of the same design as the old ones, but will be printed in a different colour, feature a new Northern Bank logo, and bear new prefixes to their serial numbers," it said.

'Process damage'

The process of printing new notes will take up to eight weeks and they will be put into circulation as soon as possible after that. The existing stock of notes will be phased out.

Earlier, Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness said an allegation of IRA involvement would damage the political process.

He told the BBC's Today programme that he had spoken to the IRA following the robbery and was told that it was not involved.

He added: "There are clearly elements within the British system and unionism intent on wrecking the peace process and of using the robbery in Belfast as a pretext for this. They must not be allowed to succeed."

North Belfast MP Nigel Dodds said if there was confirmation the IRA was involved, the political process should move on without Sinn Fein.

At his meeting, the chief constable, accompanied by Assistant Chief Constable Sam Kinkaid, briefed Policing Board Chairman Sir Desmond Rea and Vice-Chairman Denis Bradley.

Speaking beforehand, Sir Desmond said the police needed to be given "time and space" to investigate the robbery.

The Policing Board is an independent public body made up of 19 political and independent members.

It was established in 2001, at the same time as the PSNI, with the aim of securing for all the people of Northern Ireland an effective, efficient and impartial police service which has the confidence of the whole community.

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