Gang uses digger to rip ATM from filling station wall in Co Down
A gang who set fire to a digger in a petrol station forecourt after they stole an ATM has been condemned by the shop's manager.
Jen Cairney was speaking after thieves used the stolen machinery to rip the bank machine out of the wall at Brennans Stores in Seaforde in the early hours of Friday, causing considerable damage.
The vehicle was then set alight close to the doors of the premises and just inches from the petrol pumps.
"We got a call in the early hours of the morning to say that the alarm had been triggered and arrived to find the digger burnt in the courtyard," said Jen.
"In a way we have to be thankful, because we could have been coming in to a place totally burnt to the ground, meaning people out of jobs. It's madness.
"We opened slightly later but it's business as usual, and at the moment we're just trying to get the premises secured so that no one has to spend the night.
"It's terrible for the community to witness something like this. We've had burglaries in store in the past but nothing on this scale, it was certainly a big shock for us this morning."
The raid is the first of its kind in Northern Ireland for some time.
During an eight-month period in 2009 there were more than 20 smash-and-grab raids on ATMs.
More than £1m in total was stolen at that time.
Yesterday's incident has sparked fears of another series of ATM raids.
CCTV images from the forecourt show the thieves made their getaway in a van with a trailer shortly after 3.30am.
The Volvo digger was stolen from Alpha Quarry Products, which is located just metres from the crime scene.
Manager of the quarry, Irwin Armstrong, said that knowing the thieves had set fire to the equipment added insult to injury.
"Thankfully that was a spare shovel and and not our main one, but it's still around £15,000 pounds worth of equipment. It's bad enough what they did at Brennans, but to burn it out afterwards shows no remorse," he said.
"These people knew specifically what they were after. I just hope they can be brought to justice."
South Down MP Margaret Ritchie said that she was "absolutely appalled" by the crime.
"It is a totally unacceptable situation and appears to me to be a premeditated, organised crime," she said.
"The digger was stolen from the quarry across the road, it knocked at the building to remove the ATM machine about 12 times, then it was set alight in the forecourts.
"One whole end of the building has been damaged. The local community is appalled at this and want to ensure that whoever is responsible for this is apprehended."
Detectives are appealing for anyone who has information on the raid to contact detectives in Downpatrick on 0845 600 8000, or to contact Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.
Smash-and-grab raid may signal new round of attacks
BY CHRIS KILPATRICK
The brazen smash-and-grab raid in Co Down has ignited fears of another spate of attacks on ATM machines.
During an eight-month period in 2009 there were 23 raids or attempted raids – with police roundly criticised and accused of failing to combat the threat.
Many of the thefts took place in border areas, fuelling speculation gangs were crossing the border to carry out the raids before fleeing back to the Republic. Dissident republican terrorists were linked, with police saying they believed more than £1m had been stolen.
In most incidents heavy machinery, including diggers and cherry-pickers, were stolen to be rammed through buildings to access the ATMs, leaving repair bills running into tens or hundreds of thousands of pounds.
The NI Independent Retail Trade Association expressed fears the situation was "out of control". It said the thieves were depriving communities of an essential service.