On 27 February 2009, 24-year-old Shane Travers ran into a Garda station in Ireland and told police a terrifying tale. The previous evening he had been at his girlfriend’s home in County Kildare when six armed men wearing balaclavas ambushed his girlfriend, Stephanie Smith, her 5-year-old nephew, and her mother as they arrived home from a shopping trip. Forced into the house, the family was tied up and held overnight at gunpoint, with Stephanie Smith being hit over the head with a vase to ensure her compliance.
Shane Travers was an employee of the Bank of Ireland and worked at the College Green Cash Processing Centre in Dublin. He had been specifically targeted by a team of robbers carrying out what is termed a ‘tiger kidnapping’.
Early on that February morning, his family was driven to a vacant house near Ashbourne in County Meath, 27 miles away, still tied up with handguns pointed at them. Travers was given a mobile phone and a photograph of his family being held with a gun to their heads then instructed to go to the Cash Centre in Dublin City Centre. Ordered to keep in contact with the robbers at all times via the mobile, he was told unless he followed all their instructions his family would be hurt.
In what became Ireland’s largest bank heist, Shane Travers did as he was instructed. Using the photograph of his family and polaroids of his colleagues’ homes given to him by the robbers to ensure his colleagues helped him access the money, he bagged up 7 million Euros (around $9 million dollars) from the bank. Packed into laundry bags and into the boot of his car, Travers then drove to a specified drop location at Clontarf Road train station, where he was met by one of the robbers to hand over the cash. One hour after he arrived at the police station, Stephanie Smith, her nephew, and mother arrived at Ashbourne Garda Station, after managing to free themselves. Smith needed medical treatment for her head wound, but otherwise, the family was physically unharmed.
Tiger kidnappings achieved their name due to the planning and surveillance carried out by the robbers behind them. “Criminals mimic the predators by stalking their victims before pouncing,” BBC News wrote in 2008.
In the 1970s, tiger kidnapping was a popular tactic used by the Provisional Irish Republican Army to force members of British security personnel to drive bombs into designated targets. In the 1980s, a new form appeared across Ireland where armed men kidnap a pre-selected bank employee and his family in order to force the employee to rob their employer and give the cash to the robbers. It is a method based on intimidation and fear, with robbers often pointing guns at their victims and showing violence to prove what they are capable of.
Through extreme fear of the harm the robbers may do to their families, the targeted victim understandably complies with their demands. Once the victim has removed the cash from the bank, the robbers instruct them to drive straight to a drop-off point where the stolen cash is handed over. The robbers then release the victim’s family.
In recent years, tiger kidnapping cases have been seen in the UK, US, and other countries such as Brazil, targeting banks, jewelers, and fine art establishments. Little research on the crime is available, although there are some clear common features across these incidents. Victims are “held hostage and used as collateral” in a highly planned offence where the targeted victim has been followed and monitored for weeks before the actual attack.
The bank or jeweler is vetted and watched by the robbers identifying an employee they can target for kidnap, establishing their movements, routines, and vulnerability to a kidnapping heist. Tiger kidnappings are effectively two crimes in one incident; the kidnapping and hostage-taking of the bank employee and their family, and the bank robbery itself.
In the Bank of Ireland robbery, six men and one woman were arrested the day after the heist with some of the stolen money recovered. The Irish Times reported the group was believed to be members of a well-known gang with connections to “a major Dublin gangland figure.” Irish parliament member Charlie Flanagan said, “Tiger kidnappings are taking place in Ireland at a rate of almost one per week,” reported the New York Times.
In an earlier case, at around 10 pm on 13 March 2005, armed men burst into the home of Paul Richardson, his wife Marie, and their two teenage sons in the Raheny suburb of Dublin. The family was separated, with Marie Richardson and her sons driven away by two of the robbers to an area of woodland in County Wicklow. There they were held hostage overnight with handguns and a machine gun pointed at them. Securicor worker Paul was held at his home and ordered to go to work the following morning at the cash depot in Rialto in southwest Dublin.
Like Shane Travers, he was given a mobile phone to receive instructions from the robbers. Paul Richardson’s day-to-day job at the depot was to drive the transport van containing cash to deliver to different banks across the city. He too was given a Polaroid photo showing his family being held at gunpoint and told to show it to his colleagues in order for them to cooperate.
Under their orders, Richardson delivered 2.28 million Euros (approximately $2.8m, US) in his transport van to a pub carpark, according to the Irish Times, before being told to drive away. Once the robbers had collected their cash, Marie Richardson and her children were left in the woods with their hands and feet bound with cable ties. They were able to free themselves and seek help from the nearest house.
In an interview with the Irish Times, Marie Richardson said, “I was frightened, very frightened, but felt like I was going into survival mode because my children were with me.” While her husband was ordered to collect the money the robbers wanted, Mrs. Richardson was told, “Everything will be ok, your husband knows what to do. He has a job to do for us,” by one of the robbers holding her.
In 2009, after one of the longest trials in Irish criminal history, two men were jailed for 25 years for the Securicor tiger raid and one man jailed for 12 years, after the judge called all three “inhuman monsters” for their treatment of the Richardson family. “Today we have come to an end of a very long road. At last we feel that justice has been done,” Paul Richardson said after the sentencing. Three years later, however, two of the men, Mark Farrelly and Christopher Corcoran, were freed after overturning their convictions at the Court of Criminal Appeal. In 2015 the pair was found not guilty after mobile phone records used in their original trial were ruled inadmissible.
Faced with their family being held hostage by a gang of men armed with guns, these bank employees will understandably do anything they are told to save their own lives and those of their loved ones. While in most cases the targeted victims are released without being hurt, the psychological impact of an ordeal like this for both the adults and children involved will last for many years.
Judge Hunt, during the sentencing of the men originally convicted of the Richardson family tiger kidnap, said, “I express the sincere and profound hope that the passage of time will help him get past this,” referring to Paul Richardson, “However he is not, and will not be, the same man as he was before March 13th, 2005.”