Portrush bank robbery ‘sting’

FOILED...Police at the scene of an attempted robbery in Portrushon Friday. A knife can be seen on the right of the picture along with a cashbox. PICTURE MARK JAMIESON.
FOILED...Police at the scene of an attempted robbery in Portrushon Friday. A knife can be seen on the right of the picture along with a cashbox. PICTURE MARK JAMIESON.

A COLERAINE judge has described as “a threat to the public” and refused bail to three out of four Belfast men charged with attempting to rob a cash in transit van last weekend.

The four defendants, allegedly caught in a PSNI undercover sting operation whilst trying to steal cash intended for the Northern Bank, Portrush, appeared in the dock at North Antrim Magistrates’ Court on Monday.

The four were named as Alex Anthony Carlin (36), Joseph Savage (30) and brothers Paul (22) and Patrick Craig (27) with addresses in the west of the city and Dunmurry.

All of the men were charged with robbery of a cash box, going equipped for theft with fake number plates, possession of an offensive weapon described as a large kitchen knife and handling stolen goods in the form of a silver 4-by-4 getaway car.

Savage and Carlin faced an additional charge of driving without insurance and Paul Craig faced an extra charge of possessing an offensive weapon in a public place.

After hearing pleas from both the PSNI and the PPS, District Judge Richard Wilson, refused to grant bail to Savage, Carland or Patrick Craig because of their risk of reoffending and/or skipping the jurisdiction of the court.

However, the younger Craig brother was released on bail after admitting his role in the robbery to investigating police officers. His release is subject to a cash surety, an electronic tag, his residing at a registered address and signing in at his local police station.

The appearance of the four men followed an intensive surveillance operation by the PSNI’s Organised Crime Branch last Friday when detectives spotted a number of the defendants driving around in a silver Suzuki Vitara which was reported stolen from the scene of a Downpatrick burglary back in January.

The Vitara’s occupants later met up with the fourth member of the gang who drove to Portrush in the lead car - a black VW Golf owned by Savage’s girlfriend.

According to police, once in Portrush, officers observed the defendants meeting at Atlantic Avenue from where they watched the Northern Bank at the other end of the road. They then went in the direction of the Main Street bank as the Group Four armoured van parked outside. The vehicle was being monitored by police who observed and heard Paul Craig demand cash from one of the security guards otherwise he would be stabbed.

Armed uniform police rushed to arrest the younger Craig brother who immediately admitted his role. However, the other three defendants made off and were stopped near their vehicles on Mark Street after being observed dumping gloves and other items in a nearby church property. Father-of-two Patrick Craig denied any involvement in the robbery and claimed through his solicitor that he was in Portrush to go fishing.

All of the men have been ordered to reappear at Coleraine Court House on March 26 - Paul Craig in person and the rest via video link from prison.

Congratulating the police on their operation and arrests, Independent MLA, David McClarty, told The Times: “ I commend the swift operation led by the police that stopped a potentially dangerous crime and minimised harm and distress to those forcibly involved and also to passers-by.

“The effective actions of the police this weekend inspire confidence for these coming months when thousands will descend into Portrush and the surrounding North Coast.

“The incident also reiterates my previous call to maintain a police station in Portrush. It is vital that we maintain the highest standards of security and safety for visitors in the summer and yearlong residents alike.

“A police station provides a sense of security and a deterrent simply just by being there. I further appeal to the PSNI and the relevant authorities to consider the necessity of keeping the police station in Portrush.”