A post office has been destroyed and a substantial sum of money stolen after a JCB tractor was used to ram it.
The quiet Co Down town of Moneyreagh is in shock as the community comes to terms with the burglary just metres from a local primary school.
At around 2am yesterday morning, up to four thieves used a stolen digger from the Ballystockart Road in Comber to ram into the post office in the Hillmount Drive area.
They made off with a substantial sum of money from the building, according to police. The premises is used as both a post office and convenience shop.
Diggers were used in a spate of robberies in Co Tyrone in 2009, with the machinery enabling ATMs to be ripped from walls.
However, the Castlereagh business was targeted for the cash safe in the post office. The ATM inside the shop was left untouched.
Elderly residents hoping to collect their pensions were left appalled as they viewed the rubble.
Refurbishments had taken place just last summer. The digger caused extensive damage to the roof of the annex housing the post office. The ceiling collapsed and the exterior wall disappeared.
The shop faces Moneyrea Primary School and the local community centre. It has been described as the 'heart and soul' of the rural area, just 15 minutes drive from Belfast. Golfer Rory McIlroy sold his home nearby last month.
Mother-of-two Emma Manning said she was stunned to find the building in such a state.
"This is shocking in such a sleepy town," she said. "Kids bring their pocket money to spend on sweets after school. Parents come from the community centre to stock up on tea and coffee.
"It's always so busy – it really is a big part of who we are."
The Housing Executive, who own the property, arrived at the site nine hours after the burglars.
"A contractor is currently clearing debris from the site and we will seek to secure and weatherproof the property as quickly as possible," said a spokesperson.
"The site remains the subject of an ongoing PSNI investigation."
Condemning the robbery, South Belfast MLA Jimmy Spratt said: "The shop and post office are at the heart of the community."
Strangford MLA Michelle McIlveen also expressed concerns.
Customers had to queue up at the front door to buy bread and milk, served by a manager in a hard hat.
It is not known how long the post office will be closed.
• 2009: July 4 – Digger used to grab cash machine containing £80,000 from McCabe's store in Newtownbutler.
• August 19 – Car crashed into McAtee's pub in Fintona. Empty cash machine found abandoned in a field.
• October 20 – Gang of six strikes at shop in Moy, but leaves empty-handed.
• October 21 – ATM left during a raid at Ardglass. Digger still running when police arrive at the scene.
• November 4 – Substantial sum of money taken after raid at Cabragh near Dungannon.
• December 11 – Digger used to rip ATM in Templepatrick, Co Antrim. No cash is recovered.