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ARMED GANG IN 345K PUB RAID; Two held after copter chase.

Byline: MICHAEL DOYLE

TWO men were arrested after an armed gang robbed a landlord of pounds 45,000 as he returned home with his St Patrick's Day takings.

Millionaire TP Smith, who owns four Dublin pubs including the Auld Dubliner and Farringtons in Temple Bar, was targeted around 4.30am yesterday as he approached his EUR2million Castleknock home at Georgian Village.

The publican was confronted by two men, one of them armed with a sawn-off shotgun.

Mr Smith, whose pubs are worth more than EUR20million, managed to dial 999 as the raiders sped off in a VW Passat car.

Gardai supported by the force's helicopter gave chase and a car was cornered several miles away in the Finglas area.

A Garda spokesman said: "A patrol car crew observed a VW Passat at Snugborough Road.

"The car was followed and monitored by a Garda Air Support Unit aircraft as it travelled towards the Kilshane area, north of Finglas, where it was stopped at Bay Lane.

"Two men were arrested and taken to Blanchardstown Garda station.

"A large quantity of cash was also recovered at the scene of the arrests. No shots were fired during the robbery and no one was injured."

The men, who are both in their mid-20s and from Finglas, can be held for up to 72 hours.

A Garda source revealed: "This was a well-planned operation. The raiders had built up a picture of Mr Smith's movements and it's likely they had him under surveillance for some time.

"The two men are well known to gardai. They would have come to our attention before.

"The raiders obviously monitored Mr Smith's movements throughout St Patrick's Day, as he carried out his business.

"They then followed him to Castleknock and struck as he walked towards his home."

Mr Smith and his wife are both said to be "deeply distressed" by the incident. Yesterday a visibly shocked Mrs Smith answered the door to their home, but declined to discuss the robbery.

Mr Smith, who is in his 50s and originally from Co Cavan, yesterday gave a statement to gardai, while detectives continued to question the two men.

A source said: "The raid will affect him deeply. He literally stared death in the face.

"No one knows why he was carrying that amount of cash on him. Normally publicans bank the takings at the end of the night, because they know it is too risky to carry large sums of money on their person."

And one Dublin publican said: "I was amazed when I heard that Mr Smith had brought that kind of money home with him. It's terribly dangerous.

"We are all aware of the risks and know that we are a target for robbers. You always put the money in a night safe."

Locals in upmarket Castleknock were stunned by the robbery.

One said: "The Smiths only moved into Georgian Village about two years ago. They are a lovely couple and are very popular and respected.

"This is a really quite area and nothing like this has happened around here before."

CAPTION(S):

SCENE: Mr Smith's Dublin home; LANDMARK: The Auld Dubliner
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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Mar 19, 2005
Words:522
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