Friday, December 09, 2005

Sharp eye needed on bank arrests

Daily Ireland:

And so the farce goes on. The latest round of arrests in the investigation into the Northern Bank robbery have seen media-friendly raids in all parts of Belfast as well as in those well-known republican redoubts of Castlereagh and Carrickfergus.

All those arrested, with the exception of Northern Bank employee and robbery victim Chris Ward, have been released with nary a word of apology.

Similarly, there has been no explanation forthcoming from the PSNI for the offensive search of Casement Park or the raid on the home of the chairman of the Celtic supporters club that had Mr Ward as a member.

Making little of the PSNI’s efforts is a dangerous game for the suspicion is that, as the force’s efforts turn to sand, the PSNI’s determination to charge Chris Ward with something… with anything… mounts.

Today, Mr Ward holds the dubious honour of having been held longer in custody for questioning than any other suspect over the past 30 years.

Are we really to believe that he is a greater threat to the common weal than the Ulster Defence Association’s brigadiers of bling, who usually spend shorter periods on remand than Mr Ward has now spent under interrogation?

Or that Hugh Orde believes Mr Ward really is the “Mr Big”, the “inside man” who masterminded the Northern Bank heist?

Those close to Chris Ward say there is zero possibility that he had any involvement in the Northern Bank heist other than as a frightened victim carrying out the orders of the robbery gang.

Others in the PSNI, of course, suggest otherwise. After all, he supports Glasgow Celtic, works part-time in a GAA club and even once knew a man who voted for Sinn Féin! Pretty much an open-and-shut case then!

Alasdair McDonnell, the SDLP MP for south Belfast, has given the PSNI fair warning that its reputation, for what it is worth, is going down the toilet.

Those words of advice are unlikely to be heeded by secretary of state Peter Hain.

That is why the news that the Human Rights Commission is keeping a sharp eye on the detention of Chris Ward is to be welcomed.

However, much more must be done to stop further assaults on the already fragile human-rights defences in the North.

Irish America needs to be mobilised and the Irish government needs to speak out. The alternative is to allow the PSNI to drag society back when it should be moving forward.

PSNI defend raids


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