The recession could be responsible for an alarming upsurge in violent robberies against Northern Ireland businesses, an industry expert has claimed.
The warning comes after four premises in Belfast were targeted by armed raiders within 24 hours of each other at the weekend.
The raids took place in the north, east and west of the city on Friday and Saturday. In one incident, a firearm was pointed at a member of staff by a robber, who fled with cash.
Glyn Roberts, chief executive of the Northern Ireland |Independent Retail Trade |Association, said the upsurge in robberies was hitting the confidence of small businesses.
“There is a crisis of confidence caused by increasing reports of robberies,” he said.
Mr Roberts said the recession could be partly to blame for the spate of violent crime.
“There is a black market for things like tobacco, which has grown considerably during the downturn,” he added.
Police believe two of the robberies — which occurred within 15 minutes of each other at west Belfast bookmakers — are linked.
The first took place around 8.15pm on Friday at premises on the Grosvenor Road. Then around 8.30pm, a bookmakers on the Springfield Road was targeted.
Police are also investigating a robbery at Flax Street in north Belfast around 9.45pm on Friday. They are appealing for witnesses to any of the incidents.