Belfast Telegraph
12 March 2012

The only man ever jailed over the £26.5m Northern Bank robbery may be freed because of a ruling on the type of warrant used to search his house.

Ted Cunningham was convicted in the Republic after Irish police found £2.3m in Northern Bank notes in a locked basement cupboard.

His trial was told that when he went with gardai into the basement and was asked what was in the cupboard he replied: “A couple of million sterling.”

He claimed the money was from the sale of a sandpit and denied it was from the robbery.

Cunningham later claimed he had been set up by gardai, but his trial rejected that and he was jailed for 10 years.

An Irish Supreme Court decision last week found that the warrant used to make the search of his home was unconstitutional.

The warrant was found to be outside the constitution because it allowed police to override the protection given to the home.

The problem is that the section 29 warrant was approved by a senior gardai who was also a lead investigator into the heist.

The warrants are seen as a problem because they are not independent in any way.

The Republic’s Law Reform Commission has repeatedly warned the government that warrants needed to be independent of the investigating officers.

The Morris Tribunal into alleged Garda corruption also flagged up the problem.

The ruling could mean the quashing of other convictions under the section 29 warrants, including those of other armed robbers and kidnappers.

Cunningham has already made a bail application, but the Irish Department of Public Prosecutions has not conceded defeat and is said to be set to oppose the move.

Independent legal opinion is of the view that Cunningham is likely to have his conviction quashed as much of the evidence against him was based on the disputed warrant.

Mr Cunningham remains the only person convicted over the Northern Bank robbery, which was widely blamed on the Provisional IRA and was the biggest ever bank theft in Ireland and England.

Another man, Christopher Ward — then aged 25 and from the Poleglass area of 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 was later cleared of the charges brought against him.