Northern Ireland

Ulster Bank £500k 'theft': Police begin investigation

Ulster Bank
Image caption Police said on Friday they have "initiated" an investigation into criminal allegations at the bank

Police have begun an investigation into the suspected theft of up to £500,000 from an Ulster Bank vault.

The money went missing more than 18 months ago, but the details only emerged during an employment tribunal in Belfast on Thursday.

The tribunal heard that Ulster Bank had accused one of its staff of carrying out the theft last year.

The case was brought by a whistle-blower, who the bank suspended after he warned bosses about the alleged thief.

'Scapegoat'

The whistle-blower won his case and was awarded almost £29,000 in compensation.

The tribunal panel found that Ulster Bank had tried to make the informant a scapegoat for the missing money.

The Belfast hearing was told that the alleged thief was known for his gambling and extravagant lifestyle, and travelled to Las Vegas twice a year.

Neither of the Ulster Bank employees were publically named during the case, but the tribunal referred to the whistle-blower as AB, while the alleged thief was called Mr P.

Both men worked at the bank's cash centre, where AB was a team leader.

'Gambling syndicate'

Thursday's hearing was told that AB approached his line manager as far back as 2009 because he had become suspicious of Mr P's extravagant gambling lifestyle and the control he exerted over others gaining access to the cash vault.

AB also said that Mr P ran a work-based gambling syndicate, travelled to Las Vegas for gambling twice a year and had "a drinking issue".

The whistle-blower's concerns were not acted on, so he raised them again in December 2011.

As a result, a detailed cash count took place that revealed a shortfall of £565,000.

All four people who worked in the cash centre were then suspended, including AB and Mr P.

Mr P was investigated and was ultimately accused by the bank of the unauthorised removal of £500,000 in cash from the vault and with having stolen money from the vault.

The tribunal described how the bank's investigation found that "significant amounts of cash" were being paid into Mr P's personal Ulster Bank accounts.

'Depression'

Despite his role in uncovering what was going on, AB did not receive any credit - instead there was an attempt to implicate him.

AB was suspended from the his job for six months and described being "made to feel like a criminal,". He also suffered from depression as a result.

There is no suggestion of misconduct by any other staff in the cash centre.

During the tribunal, it was not revealed if the bank called the police in last year, what happened to the alleged thief or whether or not the bank has located the missing money.

The BBC has telephoned Ulster Bank five times and sent an email request over the last 24 hours asking for that information.

The bank responded by saying it does not comment on staff matters.

In a statement on Friday, a police spokesperson said: "Following approaches by the Ulster Bank and Royal Bank of Scotland, the PSNI has initiated an investigation into allegations of criminal activity."

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