By Sarah O’Connor
Fri May 11, 2012

DUBLIN (Reuters) – The only person jailed in connection with a 26.5-million-pound robbery that almost derailed the Northern Ireland peace process was freed on Friday after an appeals court quashed his 10 convictions.

Financial adviser Ted Cunningham, 63, had been sentenced to 10 years in jail in 2009 after a court found him guilty of money laundering involving more than 3 million pounds stolen from the Northern Bank in Belfast in December 2004, one of the biggest bank raids in British history.

Police and some politicians have said they believe Irish Republican Army (IRA) guerrillas were behind the crime, which took place at a sensitive time in talks between the British province’s feuding politicians to end 30 years of fighting between Irish nationalists and pro-British loyalist gunmen.

The IRA, which earlier that year had pledged to disarm and pursue a united Ireland through peaceful means, has denied involvement.

Ireland’s Court of Criminal Appeal quashed Cunningham’s convictions, ruling the warrant obtained to search his home when a sum of 2.4 million pounds was allegedly found was not valid.

“I’m very, very happy,” Cunningham, who can be retried on nine of the charges relating to smaller sums of money, told reporters outside the court.

Predominantly pro-Republic and opposing pro-British Unionist politicians set aside enough of their differences in 2007 to form a power-sharing executive in which they jointly run Northern Ireland’s day-to-day affairs, boosting a 1998 peace agreement that largely has ended decades of violence.

Friday’s decision was the first quashing of a conviction following a Supreme Court ruling in February declaring that any search carried out in a person’s home pursuant to a warrant not issued by an independent person was unconstitutional.

(Editing by Padraic Halpin and Michael Roddy)