Tuesday, January 18, 2005

What white van?

More confusion in the PSNI "investigation" of the Northern Bank robbery:

The PSNI last night (Wednesday) moved to distance itself from a blizzard of press reports in the immediate aftermath of the Northern Bank raid which claimed that the white van said to be carrying the money made its escape along the Grosvenor Road.

A spokesperson said that at no time had cops claimed that the van had made its way along the Grosvenor Road after the robbery, although a huge number of stories in the days after the heist attributed just such a claim to the PSNI.

The spokesperson claimed that the PSNI statement had only said that the van had headed "in the direction of the Grosvenor Road/Westlink". But because Belfast city centre is a one-way system, as the van made its way along Howard Street after leaving the bank, it could have been headed for any part of the city.

Confusion has been further heightened by the lack of CCTV footage from the battery of cameras surrounding Grosvenor Road barracks.

Mystery last night surrounded the escape route of the white van the PSNI says was used in the £26.5m Northern Bank raid.

A torrent of stories in the print and broadcast media in the days and weeks after the robbery claimed that the van left the scene and proceeded up the Grosvenor Road. That information was attributed to the PSNI.

Yesterday we asked the PSNI: "Does the PSNI have any evidence that the white van involved in the Northern Bank robbery made its escape afterwards along the Grosvenor Road?"

A PSNI spokesperson responded: "The Senior Investigating Officer heading up this investigation has said that on leaving the bank the van travelled towards the Grosvenor Road/Westlink. Evidence relating to any live investigation is not made public for obvious reasons."

Earlier, the PSNI told us that at no time had they ever claimed that the van made its escape along the Grosvenor Road. The PSNI say what they actually said was that in the course of making their escape the robbers travelled along Howard Street, in the direction of the Grosvenor Road. But since Belfast city centre is a one-way system, the van could have been making its way to any part of the city.

Widespread media coverage claiming the robbers made their escape along the Grosvenor Road was a powerful indicator that the robbers were making their way back to West Belfast – and from this it was widely deduced that republicans were behind the heist.

There are two high-tech cameras mounted on a post across from Grosvenor PSNI station and directed at traffic driving up the Grosvenor Road and into West Belfast. There is also a battery of powerful surveillance and monitoring equipment located inside and on the perimeter wall of Grosvenor Road barracks. It's also believed that the barracks is equipped with a sophisticated registration plate identification equipment similar to that used by Andersonstown barracks before it was abandoned.

And yet the only photograph of the white van published so far is a poor quality image taken by a PSNI CCTV camera as the van made its way along College Square East, past Inst, on its first run on the night of the robbery.

On Tuesday, the PSNI said at the press conference that they "were aware" that the white van had been spotted crossing the border at around 5pm on the day the bank was stripped. The PSNI added that the white van made its way into Belfast city centre via the Westlink and Grosvenor Road. But, again, no images have been produced and cops did not say on what evidence they are basing this assertion.


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