‘Victim’ of Coleraine ‘tiger kidnapping’ charged with robbery

Coleraine Courthouse.
Coleraine Courthouse.

A cleaner at a building society who told police he was the victim of a tiger kidnapping appeared in court on Thursday charged in connection with the robbery.

24-year-old Christopher Burgess of Ballyallaght Farm Cottages in Dunseverick is alleged to have been involved in the offence at the Nationwide Building Society in Coleraine on January 10 this year.

A defence solicitor said his client rejects any allegation he committed the robbery in which £1,253 was taken - but that he is the victim in the case.

Burgess was released on bail when he appeared at Coleraine Magistrates Court charged with robbery of the Nationwide and false imprisonment of his girlfriend at their home.

A second accused - Adrian Clarke (32), a night porter of Dunluce Manor, Bushmills - also appeared separately at the court on the same two charges and a further charge of carrying a firearm or imitation firearm with intent to commit robbery and was remanded in custody.

An officer told the court she believed she could connect both accused to the charges and said police opposed bail for both men.

The officer said Burgess reported to police that three armed and masked men came to his home address and tied up his partner at gunpoint and ordered him to go to the Nationwide where he works as a cleaner.

He told police he was ordered to steal cash and afterwards he was taken home and taped up.

She said the accused told police that whilst in the Nationwide he received a call which he believed was one from one of the robbers.

The officer said phone analysis showed the call was made from a phone belonging to co-accused Clarke and that both work together at night porters at the Causeway Hotel near the Giant’s Causeway.

The court heard Burgess has three jobs - at the Nationwide, the hotel and he is also a carer.

The officer believed Burgess would have recognised the voice of his friend.

The policewoman alleged the route Burgess claimed he was taken from his home to Coleraine was different than that which police believe.

She said CCTV showed him entering the building society and removing money from a cashbox as well as going to a safe and ATM machine and she said Burgess said he was told by the phone caller to try to get entry to the safe and ATM.

The officer said Burgess’ partner said three armed men came to her home and police are still looking for two other raiders and also the stolen money.

The policewoman said Clarke is Burgess’ supervisor at the Causeway Hotel.

Burgess’ defence barrister Michael Smyth said it was a “tiger kidnapping” and that his client had contacted police and was taken by two of the masked men, who he believed were armed, in his partner’s car to Coleraine.

Mr Smyth said when his client was initially being dealt with as a witness he told police he used his mobile phone whilst in the Nationwide and Mr Smyth asked if there was any evidence it was Mr Clarke on the phone.

The officer said Clarke confirmed he had the phone in his possession.

Mr Smyth said it all points to his client being an “innocent victim” and then police become suspicious because of a phone call.

The officer said Clarke admitted it was his phone and that he had it on the date in question.

Mr Smyth told Deputy District Judge Paul Conway there was a danger the “victim of a tiger kidnapping” could be remanded in custody and that his client had provided information to the police.

Mr Smyth said Burgess would probably lose his jobs if remanded in custody and he believed he would be suspended by Nationwide.

He said police had no suspicions regarding Burgess’ girlfriend who was tied up and held at gunpoint.

Admitting Burgess to bail the judge said the evidence against the accused is currently circumstantial, the judge said steps could be taken to prevent interference with witnesses and to allow Burgess to work.

Burgess was released on his own bail of £1,000 along with a surety of £1,000; he has to live in Kilrea and is not allowed to contact his partner, any witnesses or the co-accused.

He also has a curfew accept when working; is banning from having or using a mobile phone; is banned from entering Ballyallaght and Bushmills except for going to work and has to report to police three times a week.

He will return to the court on February 15.

Clarke was brought to the dock separately and his defence barrister Francis Rafferty said his client told police he phoned Burgess for an entirely innocent purpose because he is his hotel supervisor and is in charge of rotas and there was nothing unusual in calling him at various times.

The judge refused Clarke bail saying the evidence against him is of a different quality and he was remanded in custody to appear back at the court via video link on February 15.