It is one of Australia’s most captivating hostage crimes, with a plotline straight out of a Hollywood movie. What started as a routine day for bank robber Hakki ‘Tim’ Atahan, ended up in a hostage drama, a daring escape that saw his hostages used as human shields, and a car chase that shut down Sydney while being broadcast live on TV.
The Bank Job – the second gripping tale in the Murder, Lies & Alibis series – tells the story behind Australia’s greatest bank robber, Tim Atahan; a siege in a Sydney CBD bank where he held staff hostage in a Mexican standoff with more than 100 heavily armed police.
Determined he would escape with as much money as possible, Tim led police on the most bizarre car chase ever seen in Australia, inspired by Al Pacino movie Dog Day Afternoon and broadcast live on television.
Now the hostages, police officers and witnesses at the heart of this incredible criminal event come together for the first time since it all happened to tell their amazing stories of survival.
Using unseen footage, interviews with the hostages who have never spoken and the hero cop who should be dead after being shot between the eyes by the bank robber during Tim’s defiant last stand, the episode culminates in an emotional reunion decades in the making.
Award winning journalist Mark Llewellyn, Nine’s Creative Director for News and Current Affairs, pieces together the events of that day, that still leave dramatic scars on the lives of all involved and yet, incredibly, is a crime that has been largely forgotten.
Mark Llewellyn says: “The Bank Job is the greatest story never told. A story so fantastic it could have come straight out of Hollywood - except it’s real. A heist that turned into a rolling siege that gripped a city, before ending in a deadly hail of bullets.
“We have unearthed the original footage and matched it with the extraordinary first-hand accounts - told for the first time - of the hostages and the insanely courageous policemen who took the ultimate risk to save them.”
On a stinking hot January 31, 1984 Turkish emigrant Tim caught a Manly ferry to the city to rob a couple of banks – an ordinary day for the accomplished robber. He was one of the nation’s most skilled bank robbers, eluding police at every corner – robbing 16 banks in less than a year. He was a master of disguise who would rob two banks in quick succession.
With Tim’s diaries analysed by Murder, Lies & Alibis Forensic Criminologist Dr Xanthe Mallett, she reveals a deeply arrogant and ruthless man who writes that he is “the best” robber in Australia and vows no cop would ever take him alive.
On that hot January day, Tim robbed the Sydney CBD branch of ANZ, and then five minutes later walked directly next door to the State bank. But his luck was about to run out. Chased by one of the bank tellers and then two passing police officers, Tim panicked and ran straight into the Commonwealth Bank on George Street in Sydney.
Soon trapped and surrounded by armed police, Tim took the bank staff hostage and demanded a car and a helicopter. Determined that he would escape, he raided the safe and then in a move identical to movie Dog Day Afternoon, he surrounded himself by five of the staff and shuffled his way down George Street. As police evacuated the street, people fled their cars, allowing Tim and the hostages to drive off in an empty car.
What ensured was reality TV on steroids – a slow moving car chase broadcast live on television with crowds lining the streets cheering on Tim, unaware of the mortal danger the hostages were in. Driving through the Sydney CBD to Bondi, across the Sydney Harbour Bridge and down Military Road to Manly and then back to the Spit bridge which was left open, Tim’s final stand ended in a hail of bullets.
With the Spit bridge raised and threatening to topple during protracted negotiations, former Detective Senior Constable Steve Canellis got close enough to the car to stick his head in the window and talk to Tim. Steve was then shot point blank between the eyes. Perhaps the luckiest man in the world, Steve survived and recounts the drama to Murder, Lies & Alibis .
This gripping episode features the hostages in the car including Geoff Findlay, Michael Williams and Stephen Lamb, and their bank teller hostage colleagues Joanne Duffy, Anne DeLutiis and Margaret Hooper who was heavily pregnant at the time.
Other main players in this dramatic day interviewed include Detective Senior Constable Steve Packer, Detective Sergeant John Nagle and legendary newspaper crime reporter Norm Lipson.
They all reveal the scars they have carried since that January day, and take the opportunity to embrace one another during their first reunion in nearly 35 years.