29/11/2006

Bank heist accused wins right to Lords hearing

A Belfast man accused of the £26.5 million Northern Bank robbery has today won the right to a hearing in the House of Lords.

Christopher Ward, 25, from Colinmill, Poleglass, west Belfast, was charged in connection with the major theft, which took place at the Belfast city centre branch of the bank on December 20 2004. He denied the charges.

The Lords case was centred around a court hearing from which the defendant and his layers were banned, which resulted in police being given more time to question him.

The Law Lords have now decided that the exclusion of Mr Ward's lawyers raised a point of law of general public importance and his solicitors, have been told that a hearing will be convened to decide the issue.

Solicitor Paul Pierce said: "This case raises very serious concerns over the way in which the PSNI can apply to exclude solicitors and their clients from an application to extend the period of detention.

"It is vitally important that the House of Lords should rule on the issue because the liberty of a detained person is at stake."

Mr Pierce concluded by saying that the House of Lords has indicated that the petition must be lodged by December 6, therefore it will probably be early in the New Year before the case is heard.

Mr Ward is the first person in Northern Ireland to be held without charge for seven days under a new law which came in to force before his arrest.

The new law also allows police to apply for 48-hour extensions up to a maximum of 14 days.

He was charged on the eighth day after police were granted an extension in the absence of himself and his lawyers.

(EF)

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