MORE than €27,000 has gone missing from a garda station – the third haul of cash to have disappeared while it was being held as potential evidence in a criminal court trial.
All three sums have gone missing from stations in the Garda's Dublin North division.
Senior officers are trying to establish whether the money has been stolen, as was the case with the previous two lodgments, or if it has been mislaid.
One officer told the Irish Independent last night: "This is embarrassing for us to lose three separate amounts in one division. But we will not know whether all of the incidents are linked until we have firmly established the circumstances surrounding the latest disappearance."
The latest quantity of cash to go missing was being kept in a safe at Malahide garda station after it was recovered by officers following a robbery at the Coolock branch of Woodies DIY chain on the Malahide Road, which took place in June 2009.
The raiders made off with almost €60,000 but only one robber's share of the money was retrieved by investigating gardai.
Officers stored the €27,000 at Malahide station during the trial of two accused at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court.
Gardai said last night that it was too early to determine definitively what had happened to the money and that they were hoping it might have been mislaid or placed by accident in another evidence bag.
But searches in Malahide and nearby stations failed to locate the missing money.
Gardai did not realise that the cash was missing until Woodies sought the return of the cash after the court case ended.
Last month, the court was told that the manager and a doorman had been responsible for the robbery and both men later shared the cash.
Trevor Knowles (40), of McAuley Avenue, Artane, pleaded guilty to the theft of almost €60,000 and was sentenced to five years in prison, with the final two years suspended.
The court was also told that Knowles's accomplice was the manager of the branch, Thomas McDermott.
McDermott (27), of Rockmarshall, Jenkinstown, Dundalk, was given a three-year suspended sentence in October 2010 after €27,450 was recovered during a search of his house.
McDermott said he helped with the robbery because he was being blackmailed by a woman he met in Thailand, who had videotaped them having sex.
McDermott had left the alarm off, the premises unlocked and allowed Knowles to punch him in the face and tie him up to make it look like a real robbery.
Knowles walked out of the store with a bag containing €58,092 in cash, €1,065 in cheques and €130 in vouchers.
His share from the raid was never recovered.
Knowles initially denied being involved with planning the robbery and claimed he had been paid €2,000 to collect a heavy bag from the shop.
But he changed his plea during his trial when faced with an "overwhelming" amount of evidence.
Last February, gardai discovered a discrepancy in a sum of money lodged in a safe at Balbriggan station.
When the money, which had been left in the evidence bag in the strongroom, was counted officers discovered that €9,000 was missing from the original amount of €26,000.
Inquiries later determined that the money had been stolen.
The Irish Independent disclosed that the missing sum was part of a €26,000 haul that had been taken in a robbery from the post office at Lusk, Co Dublin, in January.
Gardai recovered the entire haul after intercepting and blocking a getaway car.
The money was forensically examined before it was bagged as potential evidence.
The discrepancy was discovered in February when John Wilson, the owner of the Costcutter shop where the post office is located, called to the station to seek the return of the cash.
Officers found a small tear in the bag and when they checked the contents they discovered there was only €17,000 still held in the safe.
In April, investigators arrested a rank-and-file garda and questioned him about the theft. He was released without charge.
Officers are currently preparing a file on that incident for the Director of Public Prosecutors, who will determine if criminal charges should be brought.
During the inquiries into the disappearance of that money, investigators also discovered that a separate haul of €4,000 had gone missing from a locker at Balbriggan station.
Gardai had seized the money during a search for drugs in the area in 2009 and it was kept in a locker as further inquiries into the seizure were being carried out.