Gang nets €105,000 in tiger raid
Shopkeeper forced to stuff bag with post-office cash while partner held hostage
Tiger kidnappers made off with an estimated €105,000 yesterday after forcing a shopkeeper to stuff the cash into a black plastic refuse sack while his partner was held hostage.
Last night, store owner Joe McLaughlin described the terrifying ordeal he and his partner, Tess Coleman, endured after they were threatened by three masked men armed with a handgun.
Mr McLaughlin is the owner of The Village Stores, which incorporates a post office, in Castlebellingham, Co Louth.
He said he had returned from walking the dog at about 5.45am at the rural home he shared with Ms Coleman, when three men confronted him.
"I went to put the key in the door and the dog barked. I looked and there were three men standing behind me. They were masked and wearing dark clothes and put a gun to my head," he added.
He was ordered into the house to join Ms Coleman in the kitchen, where the couple were told to sit down.
The gang then placed a gun to the woman's head and photographed her with a mobile phone. She was forced to write a note to the postmistress and tell her to follow the instructions.
Mr McLaughlin was given the phone and the handwritten note for the postmistress and was warned to ensure he collected the money.
"I was told to go about my normal business until the postmistress came in at 8.50am and then show her the picture and the note," he said. "She had to fill a black bag with the money and then I was to walk out of the store with the money and take it to a specified place.
"I was told that if the gardai were contacted, or there was an alarm or buzzer set off, that Tess would be found in a graveyard."
Mr McLaughlin was ordered to take the black bag of cash further down the main street and leave it outside a hairdressing salon.
The gang also warned him not to raise the alarm for at least 15 minutes after dropping off the money.
But shortly after he left the cash at the pre-arranged point at around 9am, he collapsed as a result of his ordeal and was found on the footpath by residents.
Gardai were then contacted and Mr McLaughlin said he spent "the longest 40 minutes of my life" as he waited for confirmation that Ms Coleman was safe. He believed she would be taken away from the house but, instead, members of the gang stayed there with her.
He said: "She is bearing up okay. She is a very strong willed woman, but I don't want her ever to go through something like that again."
Mr McLaughlin added he was angry with Justice Minister Dermot Ahern because there was no full-time garda presence in Castlebellingham.
Gardai believe that while three gang members were in the house, another two were on the main street observing Mr McLaughlin as he came out of the shop and brought the money to the drop-off point.
They were also anxious last night to identify another man in a suit, who was sitting in a silver Toyota Avensis car with an O5D registration, to establish whether they can eliminate him from their inquiries.
Senior garda officers are expected to be in contact with An Post to determine why agreed procedures on tiger kidnappings were not put into operation during the raid.
Gardai were not informed about the incident until almost three hours after it began and the raiders had fled the area before gardai could become involved.
One of the members of the gang was believed to have spoken with a Dublin accent.
The raider who collected the bag of money was described as being around 6ft tall, aged between 46- 50 years, with grey hair and moustache and wearing a brown jacket. He got into the passenger seat of a small, black car, driven by a man of thin build with black hair.
The village is on the main route for Bus Eireann daily services between Dublin, Drogheda and Dundalk, and at the time of the cash pick-up there were two buses passing along the main street.