Police face questions on how ATM raiders evaded arrest despite patrol giving pursuit
Police have been challenged over how thieves who raided two ATMs in Co Antrim avoided arrest.
The machines were stolen from a Tesco supermarket in Ballymena in the early hours of yesterday morning. Both were later recovered.
However, the PSNI is facing questions after it emerged a patrol spotted the machines being driven away from the scene around 3am, and followed the route taken by the getaway vehicle, but failed to catch up with the gang.
A digger and tractor trailer were found burnt out at the scene of the robbery on the Larne Road Link.
TUV leader Jim Allister, an MLA for the area, said questions must be asked over how those responsible escaped.
"While it is welcome that another audacious ATM theft in the Ballymena area has been thwarted to the extent that the police recovered the machines, the obvious question to which I will be expecting an answer to is how were the robbers able to get away?" he said.
"If the police caught up with them, were there not enough personnel available to fully deal with the situation?"
A total of 14 cash machines have now been stolen in 11 incidents across Northern Ireland in 2019. There have also been two attempted thefts.
It is understood the digger used in the Ballymena theft was stolen from local construction company NIRBC Ltd, which was carrying out work at Green Pastures Church in Ballymena.
Company owner Andy Magee told the BBC he "feels sorry" for the person who carried out the theft.
"He feels the need that he has to go to all that bother and steal something, rather than getting up and going to his work," he said.
"Life ruined, you know, wasted. Maybe that's a silly view to take, but that would be my view on it."
Police confirmed a patrol had seen the ATMs being taken away on the back of a pick-up type vehicle.
A spokesman said: "A nearby police patrol responded and from a distance spotted the ATMs being driven away from the area. They followed along the route taken by the thieves and subsequently located the vehicle abandoned on the Woodside Road with the ATMs on board.
"Unfortunately the thieves had already fled across fields in the darkness and out of sight."
Detective Chief Inspector David Henderson said the quick response of police allowed them to recover the ATMs, which will now be forensically examined.
He added: "I want to reassure the public that we continue to do everything that we can to try stop these attacks and catch those responsible.
"We have dedicated and increased the amount of resources to tackling this issue including actively patrolling ATM sites day and night.
"However, the reality is that these attacks are carried out across a wide geographical area and we cannot be present at every ATM location all of the time."
He added: "We really need the public to help us and report anything suspicious, as a number of people did in Ballymena this morning.
"I would ask for anyone with any information to contact us on 101 quoting reference 121 26/04/19."
DUP Policing Board member and North Antrim MLA Mervyn Storey said that police efforts must be stepped up.
"Whilst everyone understands that it is not possible for the PSNI to stand guard at every ATM machine, the number of incidents demand more significant action," he said.
"This latest incident took place on the outskirts of Ballymena and the machinery was also stolen from a very prominent location.
"It is vital that anyone with information helps the police bring those responsible to justice," he added.
"We have met with the PSNI's taskforce on this issue and we will continue to press for sufficient action to be taken. The public want to see results."
UUP councillor Stephen Nicholl called for a more realistic response from banks.
"It would seem a rational move to have alarms fitted to ATMs activated by excessive movement or tracking software installed as most phones have," he said.
"Banks certainly have a responsibility to protect not only their property but the businesses undermined by both the physical and economic damage."
Sinn Fein councillor Patrice Hardy condemned the raid.
"I would call on the public to remain vigilant particularly in regard to the movement of heavy machinery at night and to report anything suspicious," Ms Hardy said.
Tesco Ballymena remained closed yesterday.
The company said it is assisting police with their inquiries.
Retail NI chief executive Glyn Roberts urged the business community to remain on alert.
"We would urge all businesses who have external ATMs to be vigilant, particularly if they are sited near building sites with diggers," he said.