There are eight main criminal gangs involved in so-called tiger kidnappings in Ireland and all are Dublin-based. Despite sustained garda pressure, these gangs are continuing at an unabated pace to carry out kidnappings of bank staff in an attempt to extort money from financial institutions. Privately, senior gardaí say it's "only a matter of time" before someone loses their life in one of these attempted extortions.
The criminals are becoming more daring and violent, firing shots over the heads of hostages and having no qualms about subjecting the very young and the very elderly to terrifying ordeals. The main gangs are based in Blanchardstown, Cabra West, Ballyfermot, Clondalkin, Sheriff Street in the north inner city; there is another gang from various parts of the north inner city and a south inner-city gang comprising criminals from the Coombe, Pearse Street and Crumlin. To a lesser extent, criminals from Finglas and Coolock have worked together to carry out these attempted extortions.
"There are between six and eight gangs involved in tiger kidnappings. All are Dublin-based. They have loose arrangements of working together occasionally, depending on their areas of expertise and availability of manpower," a senior garda source working in the area told the Sunday Tribune.
"All are quite well organised. They are very adaptable and have become attuned to forensics and now often gather a lot of information from within the security sector before carrying them out. They generally have a fair amount of knowledge in respect of the security workings at the banks.
"All are dangerous and ruthless – it's hard to pick one out as more dangerous than the other. All have the capability to kill someone. What's of most concern is that they're getting more violent and bold."
Four days into 2010, the year's first tiger kidnapping was carried out. An armed gang escaped with €100,000 after holding a Brinks Allied cash-in-transit worker's terrified mother and nine-year-old niece hostage in Irishtown. Detectives believe the gangs behind the robbery are based in north Co Dublin. The suspects are considered a small-scale criminal outfit and have not been suspected of involvement in any major tiger kidnapping before.
It is a concern for senior gardaí that new gangs are getting involved in tiger kidnappings and that it may be regarded as a "get rich quick" crime. As is common among most tiger kidnappings, detectives believed the gang could have obtained information about the movements of Brinks Allied cash vans in the city centre from an inside source at the security company.
In November, two criminals were each given 25-year prison sentences for carrying out a tiger kidnapping in 2005 of a Securicor driver while a third man involved was jailed for 12 years. Mark Farrelly (37), of Moatview Court, Priorswood, and Jason Kavanagh (34), of Parslickstown Court, Ladyswell, were jailed for 25 years each. Christopher Corcoran (61), of Bayside Boulevard North, who the judge said was "one league removed from the other men", was jailed for 12 years.
The jury could not agree on verdicts for another two accused, who now face retrials. The lengthy terms are hoped to send out a message to the gangs involved that, if convicted, they face spending a significant proportion of the rest of their lives behind bars. After the longest trial in Irish legal history, the three men were convicted of kidnapping the family of a Securicor driver Paul Richardson and forcing him to hand over €2.28m in a terrifying ordeal.
The money stolen in these types of robberies is the life-blood for criminal gangs and is used as capital for the importation of large amounts of drugs and guns. It is therefore imperative for gardaí to catch these criminals who successfully carry them out, as it scuppers many of their planned future crimes.
The first major spate of tiger kidnappings occurred in Ireland between 2004 and 2006. They then went into a brief decline after specialist teams of highly experienced detectives were put together. But they are once again on the rise – kidnappings increased by 86% in the third quarter of 2008, according to figures from the Central Statistics Office (CSO).
A kidnapping/ransom attempt in Kilkenny in November is believed to have been carried out not by one specific gang, but several criminals from Dublin – mainly the inner city – working together. Although the criminals left empty-handed, it was an expert job in every other sense and it showed how advanced criminals involved in these kidnappings have become.
The gang had insider knowledge about the Bank of Ireland in Kilkenny, where former hurling star Adrian Ronan worked. They had also kept his wife Mary and their three young children under surveillance for several weeks. The criminals also targeted a bank outside of Dublin, reasoning it would take specialist gardaí longer to react – a trend expected to continue.
Greed is the only reason these criminals left empty-handed. The gang could have walked away with €200,000 to €300,000 but were demanding millions. Repeatedly, Ronan told them the bank didn't have anywhere near this sum, to which they threatened to shoot his wife dead, firing a shot over her head to emphasise their point. They eventually gave up, released the family and fled empty-handed.
It is understood the investigation is progressing well. Two men were arrested but released without charge two weeks after it occurred. "The banks are implementing protocols when these situations now arise but they aren't always followed," said the source. "These criminals have a perception that there are millions in the banks but there isn't in the vast majority of cases.
"They are really dependent on the terrified people they are holding captive because of the protocols being implemented at the banks and that's a dangerous situation. Because the gangs don't believe bank staff that there isn't millions available, things are becoming increasingly more violent."
One bank that did have millions available to steal was Bank of Ireland, College Green, last February. A gang from the north inner city got away with over €8m after they forced bank employee Shane Travers to access the money as they held his girlfriend and her family hostage. The gang had significant insider knowledge and while some of the money has been recovered, and two men have been charged, the ringleaders and the majority of money from the state's biggest ever bank robbery remains at large.
A couple of weeks priors to the incident in Kilkenny, members of Ballyfermot's former "M4 gang" are suspected of carrying out a tiger kidnapping and subsequent robbery of €300,000 from Bank of Ireland in Inchicore. A female bank employee's family were held hostage in Lucan until the cash was handed over. The gang earned its nickname several years ago because of their practise of robbing high-powered cars to order from commuter towns off the westbound motorway out of the city. They have since progressed to carrying out cash and transit robberies and extortion and kidnappings.
Dublin gangs carrying out tiger kidnaps were inspired by the infamous Northern Bank robbery. In December 2004, criminals got away with £26.5m (€37.8m). It was the biggest heist of its type ever staged in Northern Ireland.
"The criminals down here saw what happened in the North and began to start planning similar robberies. They soon figured out that a lot of planning goes into them and are all the time learning from their peers on how to get away with it," added the source.
"We've expected for some time that they would begin to target banks outside of Dublin. They have a perception that outside Dublin it will be easier but hopefully, down the road, we can prove them wrong. But these types of robberies are notoriously hard to investigate because of the level of planning the criminals put in."
And gangs are prepared to go to extreme lengths to ensure they carry out the best job possible. Several Dublin criminals have attended commando-style courses in Eastern Europe, training them in counter-surveillance and use of firearms. Gardaí are aware that a number of Irish criminals suspected of involvement in tiger robberies have been trained by former special forces in Croatia, Serbia and Slovakia.
There has been some internal grumbling among gardaí about the force's procedures when reacting to tiger kidnappings. Some senior gardaí are unhappy that they have not been issued with any official protocols from the force's intelligence unit, Crime and Security, on how to investigate such crimes. Local units have also complained at not being informed about what has happened immediately, making the subsequent on-the-ground investigation all the more difficult.
The other major problem in solving these crimes is that bank employees, under pressure, often ignore alert guidelines, drawn up by all of the financial institutions with the gardaí and the Department of Justice.
Gardaí say that aside from the money stolen from banks which is subsequently used to fund gangland activities, it is impossible to measure the human suffering of the families caught up in these attempted extortions. Even though the criminals are often forced to flee empty-handed, the lives of innocent people who are targeted are never the same again.
"In these hostage situations, the collateral damage and impact this is having on the families is immense," added the source. "It seriously affects the mental health of those targeted far into the future."