Northern Ireland retailers fear fresh attacks on ATMs over the Easter holidays
As traders meet with Policing Board, PSNI urges public and the owners of plant machinery to be its eyes and ears
Shops across Northern Ireland are on high alert amid fears that ATM robbers will strike again this weekend, a retail chief has said.
Glyn Roberts was speaking after taking a delegation to meet the Policing Board to discuss the PSNI's role in tackling the spate of raids on cash machines.
The Policing Board pledged to ask Chief Constable George Hamilton if enough resources are being allocated to stopping the attacks.
The development came as a senior detective last night urged construction companies to secure sites ahead of the Easter break.
Ten cash machines have been raided in nine attacks since the start of the year.
All follow a familiar pattern, with heavy machinery used to rip the cash machines from walls.
The latest incident took place in Bushmills on Tuesday when a digger was deployed to remove the ATM, which was later recovered close to Dunluce Castle.
Mr Roberts, who has previously warned the spate of raids this year could cost retailers £1m, said store owners are on high alert for the holiday period. "Our members are living in a state of fear. They're desperately worried they may see at least one more attack this weekend," he said.
"A lot of ATMs are full at the minute, with the Easter holiday."
Mr Roberts said he feared the crime wave could worsen, saying it has been a "difficult time" for business owners.
"Our greatest worry is that aside from these gangs, we could have a situation where we have copy-cats," he added. "And if we have numerous copy-cat attacks, then this problem will have escalated very significantly."
Mr Roberts said the Policing Board was left in no doubt as to the impact of the crime wave, with shop owners facing rising insurance premiums.
"We have a situation where retailers who have not been hit are facing costs," he said.
He said the criminals could only be stopped by effective partnerships between all parties, including the construction industry.
Mr Roberts added: "The general public have also a key role in this. Some of these diggers are being moved in the dead of the night over a mile through rural towns.
"Clearly, questions have to be asked: if a digger is being moved at 3 o'clock in the morning, then clearly it's suspicious activity."
He added: "If the public sees something suspicious please ring 999. We can't be clearer on this."
The nine ATM attacks this year include three this month. On April 1 an excavator was used to steal an ATM in Ahoghill.
The following Sunday, April 7, a stolen digger ripped a cash machine from the side of a shop in Dungiven.
Then in the early hours of Tuesday thieves used a digger to rip the ATM from a wall beside the Ground cafe at Market Square in Bushmills. An earlier spate of thefts, including in counties Antrim, Fermanagh and Tyrone, led to the PSNI launching a special task force.
Earlier this week TUV leader Jim Allister voiced concern, claiming the criminals were winning.
Policing Board vice-chair Debbie Watters said it would be discussing the level of policing resources and how they are allocated.
"It seems that the deployment of resources needs to be the greatest probably at the weekends, between two and four in the morning," she added.
"We'll discuss that further with the Chief Constable."
She added: "Retail NI do feel that there is a lot of resources being put on this but we'll submit further questions to the Chief Constable.
"We'll be asking if enough is being done and is there enough being done right across the organisation - not just in one department, and is this really being given the due attention it deserves?
"All indications are at this point that it is being held as an issue of high priority."
Ms Watters said the public's role in assisting police to apprehend the gangs is crucial.
"There are over 1,000 ATMs across the country and the PSNI doesn't have the resources to be standing beside each one of those ATMs," she said.
"They need us, as the general public, to get behind this issue."
Police yesterday urged the public to remain vigilant over the coming days. Detective Chief Superintendent Darren Evans said criminals are relying on accessing plant machinery such as diggers to carry out their raids.
"I want to reiterate our appeal to anyone who owns or uses heavy plant machinery, please take every possible step to secure and immobilise your machinery.
"If criminals cannot steal diggers and other similar machinery, they cannot tear out ATMs.
"This will also mean that these expensive pieces of machinery are not destroyed or burnt out."
Mr Evans said the PSNI will remain diligent over the weekend. "The public can rest assured that police will continue to focus on the theft of ATMs over the bank holiday, we will continue to do all we can to catch those responsible for carrying out these thefts," he said.
"We have dedicated teams of detectives investigating the attacks and local police will continue to carry out patrols in areas which could be vulnerable to an attack. This remains a key priority for us."
Police urge anyone who hears machinery late at night or in the early hours to contact the non-emergency number 101 - or 999 if you think a crime is in progress.