Belfast Telegraph

Kidnap gang steal £200k and leave mother and stepson (16) in shock

By Victoria O’Hara

A Belfast family targeted by kidnappers have been left deeply traumatised.



Police investigating the terrifying tiger kidnapping where the partner and son of a security van driver were taken from their home have refused to rule out dissident republican involvement.

Two masked and armed men forced their way into the south Belfast home in the Teeling Grove area of Dunmurry on Wednesday at around 6pm.

His partner and 16-year-old son were abducted in a white Transit van and taken to Castleblayney, Co Monaghan, and held hostage overnight.

The next day the man handed over a “substantial” sum of money, believed to be £200,000, to the kidnappers.

More than 24 hours later the woman and teenager were found alive locked in a shed in Co Monaghan.

The kidnappers then set the van, used to transport them, on fire. The blaze was spotted by someone who contacted the gardai and the victims were found at around 8pm on Thursday.

Both gardai and the PSNI have now launched a joint operation.

Police said they have not ruled out dissident involvement and that “all lines of investigation will be pursued”.

Detective Chief Inspector Justyn Galloway said they believed more than two men were involved in the kidnapping.

“My early assessment is that this has been a well-planned and organised kidnapping and robbery and we are dealing with a criminal gang,” he said.

“Certainly, more than two persons were involved in this,” he said. “I have no doubt that a number of persons are involved in the planning and execution of this incident.”

Police want to trace two vehicles used by the gang, a white van spotted at Teeling Grove on Wednesday, registration: HEZ 6069.

They also want anyone who saw a brown/beige hatchback in the area of Muckamore Industrial Estate at around 5.20pm the following day to get in touch.

Mr Galloway said although the family were not injured, they were left traumatised.

“The family are deeply traumatised, you are dealing with a 16-year-old boy and two adults who had the terrifying ordeal of being removed and kept at a location overnight,” he said.

“It was clearly a traumatic incident that they went through.”

He added: “They were left in no doubt that if they did not co-operate and comply with the instructions that there lives would be in danger.”

The incident has led to cross-party condemnation.

Alliance MLA Trevor Lunn described it as an “extremely traumatic and horrific ordeal” for the family.

“They are callous thugs who are offering nothing to our society,” he said.

SDLP councillor for the area Brian Heading said: “It is disgusting that a man out trying to earn an honest living for his family has, along with his partner and son, been targeted and made to suffer in this way.”

Sinn Féin’s Jennifer McCann said the criminal gang involved in the attack need to be apprehended immediately.

“This type of criminal activity has no place in society and I would ask anyone with any information to pass it on to the PSNI,” she said.

Background

Tiger kidnappings — when gangs seize families of bank officials or keyholders of businesses as collateral until the victim has met their demands — are a familiar tactic used by paramilitaries and criminal gangs in Northern Ireland.

The incident in Teeling Grove, Dunmurry is the fourth such kidnapping to take place in Northern Ireland in 2011.

Called a tiger kidnapping because of the predatory stalking that precedes the crime, it often requires considerable inside information about the target.

One of the most high-profile cases was in 2004, when Northern Bank employees were forced to help a gang take more than £26m from the bank's central Belfast vault. In 2006 the PSNI reported a sharp rise within a year for tiger kidnappings with 11 cases occurring in 12 months.

In December 2008 a masked five-man gang armed with guns took over the home of a Marks and Spencer employee at Hannahstown on the outskirts of west Belfast.

Normal day that turned into a nightmare

What began as a normal day for a family of three in Dunmurry ended in a horrific and frightening 24 hours.

The traumatic ordeal of the victims’ — a father, his partner and his 16-year-old son — began just shortly after 6pm when they had just sat down to eat.

Two armed and masked men burst into their house in the Teeling Grove area of Lagmore.

The nightmare for the family would not end until 8pm the following day.

The armed men stayed no more than one hour at the house, issuing clear and concise instructions to the victim.

He had to go to work as normal to money courier firm Brinks-Mat the next day, then meet the gang at a specific location and hand over a ransom — thought to be £200,000.

If the instructions were not followed it was made clear the three victims’ lives would be in danger.

The criminals were aware of the hundreds of thousands of pounds he would have access to during his daily job.

The company collects and delivers large sums of cash to banks and other financial institutions in Northern Ireland.

After the instructions were given they abducted the man’s partner and son, forcing them into a white transit van outside.

Placing pillow cases over their heads, the frightened woman and teenager were driven away.

The next day, following the instructions, he attended work as ‘normal’ on Thursday.

At around 5.20pm he made his way to the meeting point in Raceview Industrial Estate in Muckamore, Co Antrim.

He handed over the ransom to the men who were in a brown/beige hatchback car.

His partner and son, meanwhile, had been taken from Belfast to Mullyash, near Castleblayney, in the back of a van.

It is not clear where they stayed overnight but they were fed by their captors.

The nightmare finally came to an end after Gardai, responding to a call that a vehicle was on fire found them.

It is believed they were found in a nearby shed.

The Gardai contacted the PSNI who launched an investigation into the incident.

PSNI Investigating officer, Detective Chief Inspector Justyn Galloway, said the family are now being extensively interviewed by officers in a bid to help track down the kidnappers.

Mr Galloway said while the family were not hurt, the incident had left them traumatised.

“The victims were in their own house and then faced with masked men holding guns, terrifying by any account,” he said.

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