Belfast Telegraph

ATM gang had luck on their side, says police chief as he defends officers

The scene of the ATM raid at a garage at Nutts Corner yesterday
The scene of the ATM raid at a garage at Nutts Corner yesterday
The recovered cash machine

By Gillian Halliday and Brett Campbell

A top PSNI officer has defended the actions of officers who failed to apprehend a criminal gang behind a recent ATM heist in Co Antrim.

Assistant Chief Constable Alan Todd said yesterday the thieves who evaded officers in a patrol vehicle following last Friday's raid at a Tesco store in Ballymena had a "bit of luck on their side".

His comments came within hours of a petrol station at Nutts Corner becoming the 13th outlet to be targeted in the ATM crime wave since the start of 2019.

Two men, aged 26 and 31, have been arrested in connection to the theft of the ATM - which is the 15th to be stolen - in the early hours of yesterday. It was later recovered by officers.

An eyewitness who observed the earlier Ballymena raid unfold had told the Belfast Telegraph the gap between the gang's getaway vehicle, towing a trailer, and the patrol car was "300 yards". Officers later recovered the two stolen ATMs.

On Monday this newspaper published claims that the PSNI's response to the ATM crime wave is being hampered by patrol officers' reluctance to break the speed limit following the introduction of new recording technology.

Mr Todd had previously declined to answer questions posed by this newspaper in relation to the matter.

But yesterday the Assistant Chief Constable insisted to the Belfast Telegraph that his officers "routinely" break speed limits in response to calls.

"I'm not claiming everyone in the service is trained for high-speed pursuit; that would be untenable both in training them and refreshing them," he said.

"But there are significant numbers trained in Local Policing Teams for pursuit. But that doesn't mean that other officers can't respond in operations or calls for service or any other blue light requirement."

Mr Todd would not disclose if officers involved in the Ballymena chase were pursuit-trained.

"I don't want to get into the detail of that particular incident for a number of reasons.

"To get into the detail would, frankly, undermine our ability to do what we need to do and catch these people," he explained.

He also repeated claims that PSNI policy is preventing officers from breaching speed limits is wrong.

And when asked if he was satisfied with the current PSNI policy in relation to speed regulation of police vehicles, he said officers are "trained and equipped" to respond accordingly.

"I don't think it's difficult for officers (to choose to speed)," he added.

"They know they can go beyond the powers of a citizen but they also know they then have to account for their actions in doing so.

"There's nothing stopping them doing that. We always say police officers are free to make decisions on their own responsibility."

He also dismissed any suggestion that officers may fear disciplinary action if their decision to break speed limits is deemed inappropriate by senior officers.

"Any given day a significant number of my cops - both on the specialised end of the business, and the local end of business - routinely break the speed limits.

"And the number of people who have any action against them is very, very few," he stressed.

The senior officer also rubbished fears there is a link between police station closures and the rise of the gangs, stressing officers are better "out on the street".

"The modus operandi of a criminal gang doing these thefts, they're trying to target remote country premises where there aren't witnesses or CCTV," he insisted.

"Clearly rural police stations have closed in certain areas so you'll always get an overlap, but one thing doesn't lead to another... there's no connection."

The Ballymena heist thieves managed to evade arrest through a "little bit of luck on their side", he said.

"I think we were unfortunate and they were fortunate - but that won't always be the case," he added.

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