Building Society cleaner denies he's 'inside man' in tiger raid in Northern Ireland
A cleaner at a building society has been accused of pretending to be the victim of a tiger kidnapping in which his girlfriend was tied up and held at gunpoint while his workplace was raided.
Christopher Burgess (24), of Ballyallaght Farm Cottages in Dunseverick, near Bushmills, is alleged to have been involved in the robbery at the Nationwide Building Society in Coleraine on January 10 this year.
Police told Coleraine Magistrates Court that a phone call Burgess said he received from the robbers while in the Nationwide was actually from a work colleague at a hotel, who is also accused of involvement in the raid.
A defence solicitor said his client rejected any allegation he was implicated in the robbery, in which £1,253 was taken, and insisted he was the victim.
Burgess was released on bail after being charged with robbery of the Nationwide and false imprisonment of his girlfriend at their home.
The second accused - Adrian Clarke (32), a night porter of Dunluce Manor, Bushmills - appeared separately at the court on the same two charges and a further charge of carrying a firearm or imitation firearm with intent to commit robbery. He was remanded in custody.
An officer told the court police opposed bail for both men.
The officer added Burgess had told police that three armed and masked men came to his home, tied up his partner at gunpoint and ordered him to go to the Nationwide, where he is a cleaner.
He told police he was ordered to steal cash and afterwards was taken home and restrained.
The policewoman said Burgess told police that while in the Nationwide he received a call he believed was from one of the robbers. The officer added phone analysis showed the call was from a phone belonging to co-accused Clarke, and that both work as night porters at the Causeway Hotel near the Giant's Causeway.
The court heard Burgess has three jobs - at the Nationwide, at the hotel and as a carer.
The officer believed Burgess would have recognised his friend's voice. The policewoman also alleged the route Burgess claimed he was taken from his home to Coleraine was different to the one police believe.
She said CCTV showed him entering the building society and removing money from a cashbox as well as going to a safe and ATM machine. She said Burgess said he was told by the phone caller to try to gain entry to the safe and ATM.
The officer said Burgess' partner said three armed men came to her home, and that police were still looking for two other raiders and the stolen money.
The policewoman indicated Clarke was Burgess' supervisor at the Causeway Hotel.
Burgess' defence barrister Michael Smyth said the case was a tiger kidnapping, and that his client had contacted police and was taken by two of the masked men, who he believed were armed, in his partner's car to Coleraine.
Mr Smyth said when his client was initially being dealt with as a witness he told police he used his mobile phone while in the Nationwide, and Mr Smyth asked if there was any evidence it was Mr Clarke on the phone.
The officer said Clarke confirmed he had the phone in his possession.
Mr Smyth said it all pointed to his client being an "innocent victim" and that police become suspicious because of a phone call.
The officer said Clarke admitted it was his phone and that he had it on the date in question. Mr Smyth said Burgess would probably lose his jobs if remanded in custody and believed he would be suspended by Nationwide.
He said police had no suspicions regarding Burgess' girlfriend.
Granting Burgess bail, the judge said the evidence against him was currently circumstantial. He added steps could be taken to prevent interference with witnesses and allow Burgess to work.
He was released on his own bail of £1,000, along with a surety of £1,000. He must live in Kilrea and not contact his partner, witnesses or the co-accused. Other conditions include a ban on using mobile phones. He will return to court on February 15.
Clarke's defence barrister Francis Rafferty said his client told police he phoned Burgess for an entirely innocent purpose.
Clarke said it was because he was Burgess' supervisor and was in charge of rotas, and there was nothing unusual in calling him.
The judge said the evidence against him was of a different quality and he was remanded in custody to appear at the court via video-link on February 15.