Belfast Telegraph

Ballynahinch ATM raiders could have turned filling station into a fireball, says councillor

Lauren Harte

By Lauren Harte

A filling station could have been turned into a fireball when the forecourt roof collapsed during a cash machine robbery, it's been claimed.

Extensive damage was caused in the attempted robbery in Ballynahinch, Co Down in the early hours of yesterday morning.

The thieves used a digger stolen from a nearby quarry in a failed bid to rip the cash machine from the wall of Carlisles filling station and convenience store at around 5.30am.

They struck the forecourt roof with the bucket of the vehicle as they tried to flee the scene. The roof was ripped from its supports in the incident.

The stolen digger
The stolen digger

Those involved were reported to have fled empty-handed.

A silver Volkswagen Passat car with a trailer reportedly involved in the attempted robbery was later found on fire at Queens Park in Saintfield.

Donna Carlisle, one of the owners of the petrol station, said the raiders rammed the front of the shop trying to get to the ATM and then entered the premises, taking cash and cigarettes.

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"A lot of people work there, they'll be out of work until we know it's going to be sorted.

"It's devastating, you build a thing up and then somebody can just take it away from you," she told the BBC.

DUP councillor William Walker said it was lucky there hadn't been an explosion.

"We could have been looking at a fireball. With any accident at a petrol station you always fear things could go seriously wrong," he said.

"The way the canopy has come down, the fuel pumps could easily have been ruptured and it's a business that sells heating oil and other household fuels.

"There are other businesses around there, too, and all it would have taken was one spark from the digger smashing into the canopy to send it all up.

"Over 70 people work in the complex. This is people's livelihoods and I dread to think just how badly things could have gone, as if the images don't look bad enough."

Policing Board member and Ulster Unionist MLA Alan Chambers said the nature of the attempt was "amateurish at best".

But he warned: "The way the canopy has come down is horrendous and the community will need to show plenty of Dunkirk spirit to rally around the owners who are likely to be out of business for several days at least.

The forecourt roof
The forecourt roof

"These canopies can sustain the worst storms so the digger must have hit it with incredible force in their attempt to get away. You can see from the images just how dangerous this was."

Separately an ATM was stolen over the weekend from inside a health centre at Knockbracken Healthcare Park on the Saintfield Road, close to Belfast. Police said it was too early to confirm if there was a link.

A member of staff arrived at their workplace at around 8am yesterday to find entry had been forced and the machine taken.

On Saturday night, thieves attempted to steal an ATM from the grounds of Belfast City Hospital while gardai are investigating an ATM theft attempt on Main Street in Dunleer, Co Louth earlier the same day.

The body representing independent retailers expressed concern over a possible upsurge in ATM thefts before Christmas.

Retail NI boss Glyn Roberts said: "It's a new low for thieves to attack health centres and hospitals to steal ATMs.

"The worry now is that it's not just banks and businesses but any organisation with an ATM being targeted with a real danger of an upsurge before Christmas."

Forensic examination at Carlisles petrol station where the forecourt roof was damaged by a stolen digger
Forensic examination at Carlisles petrol station where the forecourt roof was damaged by a stolen digger

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