Police in south Armagh have been roundly praised after foiling the latest brazen attempt to steal a bank cash machine using a digger.
Thieves who tried to steal the ATM in Co Armagh yesterday were foiled by swift action from the public and the police, according to politicians.
Detectives in Newry are investigating the attempted theft of an ATM from a filling station on the Green Road between Camlough and Bessbrook shortly before 7am yesterday.
The gang used a digger to ram the side of the building but fled the scene after members of the public contacted police. The attempted theft is the 19th incident involving ATMs in recent months; 11 cash machines were stolen and police recorded eight attempted thefts.
Both Sinn Fein and the SDLP praised the police response, with officers said to have been at the scene within minutes. The spate of ATM robberies, where mechanical diggers are used to smash bank and shop fronts then hoist the ATM onto the back of a pick-up van, has been so widespread in recent months that it has become a political issue, with criticism of the PSNI and complaints about the impact on local communities dependent on the cash machines.
Police said damage was caused to the wall of the building but the thieves failed to remove the ATM.
Officers found a Caterpillar digger with its engine still running and a Nissan flatbed truck, both abandoned by the thieves.
SDLP Mayor of Newry and Mourne John Feehan said: ”The police were on the scene within one minute of being called. Although the raiders escaped, prompt action from the police foiled this attempt.”
Meanwhile in the Republic, it is believed the same “hole in the wall gang” responsible for the smash and grab of two ATMs at the Ulster Bank and Bank of Ireland branches in Cootehill, Co Cavan, on Saturday are believed to have carried out the near-identical robberies in Northern Ireland this year.
Now known as “ATM/JCB jobs”, the same type of operation was under way in the south-east of the Republic earlier this year, with eight similar robberies, until gardai made a series of arrests, questioning 18 people, raiding 27 homes and seizing or freezing cash including €30,000 in bank accounts. Cash from the robberies was being laundered through the purchase of horses and ponies.
The spate of robberies in Northern Ireland is not thought to be connected with the robberies earlier this year in the southeastern counties — but the modus operandi is almost identical.
In Cootehill, the gang arrived in a low loader, a pick-up van and getaway car at around 5.20am and struck at both banks, which were adjacent to each other. The raiders were gone within 20 minutes.
In the past few weeks there have been three robberies similar to the Cootehill operation, at Templepatrick, Co Antrim, where a filling station on the main route from the city to Belfast International Airport was hit; at a supermarket on the main street in Kells, Co Antrim, on December 2; and at Ballygawley, Co Tyrone, three days earlier.
Following the Tyrone robbery, local politicians criticised the PSNI for not providing enough resources to monitor the activities of the gang responsible for the attack.
The robbery in Ballygawley prompted local Ulster Unionist councillor Alan Rainey to say the PSNI chief constable, Matt Baggott, should be “ashamed”.