On the night of Sunday 19 December 2004, two groups of armed men, masquerading as police officers, arrived at the homes of Christopher Ward and Kevin McMullan in Belfast. Both men were officials of the Northern Bank, one of the largest banks in Northern Ireland. Their families were taken hostage and the men were told to go into work as normal the next day.
Ward and McMullan followed instructions and gave the robbers entry to bank the next evening. The gang got away with a huge haul – around £25m in cash. Most of it was in the Northern Bank banknotes. The hostages were released unharmed. Over the following months and years arrests were made and some stolen money was recovered. Police recovered £2m during raids in Cork and Dublin. Around $100,000 in US banknotes was recovered from a toilet of the police athletic association’s Country Club. Although many people blamed the IRA for the raid the identity of the culprits has never been established and the crime remains unsolved.
However, following the raid, officials at the bank did some lateral thinking. The bank recalled all of its banknotes in circulation – around £300m in total. It reissued new notes in different colours with a new logo and new serial numbers. The first of these new notes entered circulation in March 2005. Anyone holding old bank notes had to bring them in to be changed – and that is a big problem if you are holding millions of stolen banknotes. The authorities could not catch the robbers or recover all of the loot but they did manage to make much of the haul worthless. Smart criminals use lateral thinking to find new ways to rob and defraud. We need to use lateral thinking in the fight against them.
This post was previously published on Destination Innovation.
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