Friday, November 04, 2005

Sense of Déjà vu over PSNI raids

Maria McCourt:

With Halloween out of the way and the countdown to the Christmas season now under way, it was almost with a sense of inevitability that we were asked to ponder the possibility of a breakthrough in the most controversial Christmas crime of them all – the robbery of £26.5m from the Northern Bank in Belfast last December. Perish the thought that we should go a full year without a single breakthrough of any significance in the investigation into a crime of such magnitude.

The two young Co Down men arrested early yesterday were eagerly named by some media outlets before the ‘suspects’ had got their feet properly under the interrogation table, although they were more circumspect about the arrest of a third man in Belfast later in the day.

Now that the almost forgotten Northern Bank raid has once again intruded on the public consciousness, we take this opportunity to point out once again that we have absolutely no idea who carried out the robbery. The plain fact of the matter is that nobody else knows either – not the PSNI, not the media, not the IMC, not the Irish or British governments. They may well have strong suspicions, but strong suspicions are not the same as proof, and they’re certainly not enough to justify the vilification of the republican movement in the way that we’ve seen over the past ten months.

Disquiet about this latest development in the case is not confined to republicans. An SDLP source in Co Down yesterday told Daily Ireland that he is firmly of the opinion that neither of the two men arrested there had anything to do with the robbery, adding with some heat that the entire episode “stinks of a set-up”. That it was “the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever seen” and should be seen for what it is – “a joke”.

It seems evident that the PSNI is unaware of, or simply not capable of appreciating, the deep suspicion of nationalists and republicans every time another one of these media-friendly setpiece raids is splashed across our TV screens. They’ve seen it all before – a long line of Land Rovers on the Stormont drive; the raids on homes in the wake of the Castlereagh break-in; the searches of commercial premises in the wake of the Northern Bank raid. The defining nature of these operations was that they weren’t raids at all in the accepted sense of the word: officers wandered about not bothering to look in drawers, cupboards or roof spaces; computer disks were arbitrarily selected for confiscation and later returned; search teams stood around twiddling their thumbs while keyholders and householders drank tea and waited for them to leave. What the raids had in common was the eagerness of all involved to stand outside the premises in boiler suits and baseball caps for the benefit of the cameras.

What will become of the three men arrested yesterday is unclear. What is all too clear is that yesterday’s events had all the hallmarks of another media circus and precious little to do with professional policing.

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