Northern Ireland

Ulster Bank raid murder of Bill Elliott is reopened

Bank
Image caption The Ulster Bank in Rathcoole, Belfast

A murder inquiry has been reopened into the death of a police officer in Belfast nearly 40 years ago.

Insp Bill Elliott was shot dead whilst investigating a bank robbery in 1974.

The PSNI's Serious Crime Branch has now reopened the case after a review by the Historical Enquiries Team (HET) found potential new leads.

The author and screenwriter Ronan Bennett was controversially convicted of the killing but it was overturned by the Court of Appeal a year later.

Insp Elliott, 48, was driving on his own when he heard news that a robbery was under way at the Ulster Bank in the Rathcoole area of the city

The RUC officer raced to the scene and died after a shoot-out with members of the Official IRA. Detectives said they were armed with two submachine guns and a pistol.

Insp Elliott was posthumously awarded the Queen's Police Medal.

The HET is re-examining killings from the Troubles and alerts detectives to any new lines of investigation.

Det Supt Jonathan Roberts said: "Certainly there are new lines of inquiry opening up to us and developing. It's an overall reassessment of the case."

Image caption Insp Bill Elliott was shot whilst investigating a bank robbery

"I don't wish to discuss specific new lines of inquiry because they are active lines of inquiry and to disclose them prematurely might compromise the case," he added.

Two teenagers were jailed in the aftermath of the robbery. But the original investigation became the focus of controversy when 18-year-old student Ronan Bennett - who is now a high profile author and screenwriter - was convicted in connection with the killing, despite maintaining his innocence.

He has recounted that the evidence against him, that of a witness who gave a description of one of the gang, changed a number of times.

Gallant

His conviction was quashed by the Northern Ireland Appeal Court, which cleared his name within a year of the trial.

The senior officer, now reopening the hunt for Inspector Elliott's killers, said it was possible to solve the case, despite the passage of time.

Det Supt Roberts added: "We are in possession of witness statements that were taken at the time and we have a number of lines of inquiry to follow in respect of people who we believe may be able to give us information.

"We are well aware of what exhibits were taken at the time and what we are in possession of. I am very hopeful that there will be new opportunities identified."

Investigators said that Insp Elliott was driving his own car at the time of the robbery.

But officers believe he may have been travelling between stations when he heard news of the bank raid on his police radio.

Det Supt Roberts said: "It was a very gallant act, given that he was on his own, he was in his own car, he responded immediately and engaged in exchange of gunshots with three or more suspects."

The police have released pictures of the scene of the bank shooting, as well as of the gang's getaway car, though investigators said they no longer have the vehicle.

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