ATM thefts bill could hit £1m despite latest raid apparently going wrong
The cost to retailers for a series of ATM raids across Northern Ireland could be close to £1m, a business chief has warned.
It follows another cash machine heist, this time in Co Antrim, during the early hours of yesterday morning.
Thieves used a digger to rip the ATM from a wall beside the Ground cafe at Market Square in Bushmills, causing extensive damage.
The machinery was then abandoned and set on fire nearby in an area known as the Diamond. A tractor that had been used to transport the digger was also set alight.
Police later said the ATM was recovered - but declined to say if its contents were intact.
It was found on a country road near Dunluce Castle on the Antrim Coast Road after apparently falling off the vehicle used to transport it from the scene.
So far this year, 10 ATMs have been raided - all in similar incidents, with machinery used to tear out the cash points in the dead of night.
As calls grew for more police action, there were claims that the criminals are winning.
Detectives believe the thefts are carried out by more than one gang - but would not specify the exact number.
The Ground Espresso Bar, which has been operating in Bushmills since 2012, had been due to open today for the start of its summer trading season, but this has been postponed.
Owner Darren Gardiner, co-founder of Ground Espresso Bars, said the extent of the damage was still being assessed.
"This is very disappointing for the local community and for tourists visiting Bushmills," he said. "We don't yet know the full extent of the potential damage which has been done."
The Bushmills heist is the latest in a string of cash machine thefts on both sides of the border in 2019.
Thieves have struck nine times, stealing 10 ATMs.
Retail NI chief executive Glyn Roberts said the costs involved for the affected retailers is "huge". He said many were now considering removing cash machines, amid fears they will be targeted by the thieves.
"There's often structural damage (involved in these attacks), with supporting walls damaged by the diggers," he said.
"It's obviously hard to put an exact figure on it but there are things like the loss of trading, and the increase in insurance premiums... I would say we're looking at a figure in a region of upwards of a million pounds."
This figure does not include the stolen cash itself, although the PSNI will not reveal how much has been stolen.
Speaking ahead of meeting the Policing Board tomorrow to discuss the police response, Mr Roberts said the latest incident was devastating for the Bushmills community.
"This is a shameless attack on a rural town which was preparing for a busy Easter weekend of visitors and tourists," he added.
"Every single ATM robbery brings rural Northern Ireland that much closer to being a cash-free zone."
He added: "Regardless whether (or not) they have been robbed, many Retail NI members are now considering removing their ATMs for fear of their shops being smashed up."
Yesterday's theft is the third here since the start of this month. On April 1, an excavator was used to steal an ATM in Ahoghill. The following Sunday, April 7, a stolen digger was used to rip a cash machine from the side of a shop in Dungiven, Co Londonderry. An earlier spate of thefts led to the PSNI launching a special task force in February.
TUV leader Jim Allister said a lack of police presence in Bushmills had left the area "wide open for these gangs" and the "criminals were winning".
"The paucity of policing in north Antrim is, I believe, making life easy for the criminals," he claimed. "This is not just another ATM theft, but the ripping of a vital service out of the village of Bushmills."
DUP Policing Board member Mervyn Storey said: "Whilst everyone understands the difficulties in tackling this spate of thefts, there is an urgent need to ensure those responsible are brought to justice."
Sinn Fein MLA Philip McGuigan said ATM raids are harming rural communities which are getting impatient with the PSNI over a lack of arrests.
PSNI Detective Chief Inspector Dunny McCubbin said police understand the concern of the public and the business community after the latest theft.
"As in all of these ATM thefts, the actions of these criminals have not only caused immediate financial harm to the business that was targeted, but they have caused devastation to the local community," he said.
"I want to reassure the public that we continue to take this matter extremely seriously.
"I understand the fear that these attacks are causing and the damage that is left in the wake of each theft. We are doing all we can to catch the people responsible and stop these attacks.
"Last month we increased the amount of resources dedicated to tackle this issue and local police patrols are actively patrolling vulnerable and high risk locations. We also continue to work with partners in the banking and retail sectors regarding crime prevention."
DCI McCubbin urged people to report anything suspicious to police. Anyone who saw or heard anything in the area of the Ballyhome Road in the early hours of yesterday should contact detectives at Coleraine CID on 101 quoting reference 106 16/04/19.
Information can also be provided anonymously to Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.