Rural traders could withdraw ATMs as raiders strike again with a digger
Cash machines outside shops in rural areas could be removed in response to a new spate of ATM raids, a retail chief has said.
The warning comes after thieves used a stolen digger to rip an ATM from the wall of a filling station in Co Tyrone.
The heist, in the early hours of yesterday morning, is the latest in a series of raids on cash machines across Northern Ireland.
Robberies - including four in the last month - have occurred across counties Antrim, Armagh, Down and Tyrone over the last year. All bear striking similarities, with diggers used to tear machines from the walls, often in the early hours of the morning.
Now concerns have been raised that local communities will pay the price if retailers remove outdoor ATMs from their premises due to the thefts.
Retail NI chief executive Glynn Roberts said if the raids continue, stores could act.
He is due to meet with senior police officers later this month to press for a taskforce to tackle the criminal gangs responsible.
He said the situation is all the more alarming as a series of bank closures in recent years has left people increasingly dependent on ATMs.
Mr Roberts said: "With four ATM robberies in the past month, these attacks are now a major problem for local retailers.
"With so many bank branch closures in rural towns and villages in recent years, ATMs provide an invaluable service to their local communities.
"There is a real danger that retailers in rural areas will start to withdraw their ATMs and the real loser will be the local community. Many people depend on these machines to access cash and to receive benefits or pensions."
In the latest incident, reported around 4.10am yesterday, a digger was used to remove an ATM from the wall of a filling station near Omagh.
The ATM was stolen from the Glendale Service Station at Killyclogher Road at around 3.30am.
The digger used to remove the machine was found at the scene, and significant damage was caused to the wall of the business premises.
CCTV footage of the incident shows it took just 90 seconds for the thieves to rip the cash machine from the wall and place it into a trailer before making their getaway.
A spokesperson for the business, which has been operating for over 40 years, said they were determined to get up and running again as soon as possible.
Sinn Fein MLA Declan McAleer condemned those responsible.
"Glendale shop and filling station on the outskirts of Omagh is a family-owned business which provides a vital service for the community," he said.
"This is the latest attack of this kind in the community after a similar incident in nearby Killyclogher and others in recent years at Fintona, Carrickmore, Garvaghey and Greencastle."
Omagh DUP councillor Errol Thompson said: "Glendale has been here for many years and we want to see the family continuing to do business in this area for many more years to come.
"Hopefully they will not be deterred and rise up again."
West Tyrone SDLP MLA Daniel McCrossan has expressed concern over the lack of PSNI prosecutions in relation to ATM thefts.
"There has been a scourge of ATM thefts across Northern Ireland recently and many of these have happened in Tyrone," he said. "I do have concern that so many of these thefts are happening yet I am seeing very little in terms of arrests, prosecutions and indeed preventative action by the PSNI.
"I have written to the Chief Constable to demand action."
PSNI Detective Chief Inspector David Henderson said: "Each incident has followed a very similar process of targeting premises, before using plant machinery to remove ATMs from the exterior façade. This caused significant damage to the property, as well as causing disruption to the business targeted and the local community.
"At this stage, officers are investigating the possibility that these incidents may be linked. Enquiries are continuing and we continue to work hard to identify the perpetrators.
"At present, Criminal Investigation Department detectives across Northern Ireland have been tasked to investigate these incidents and are proactively progressing enquiries, to identify and apprehend those involved.
"I would appeal to the community to be vigilant to this type of crime and to report any suspicious vehicles or activity or if you hear machinery operating either late at night or early in the morning."
The PSNI said that over the last six months, there have been six reports of ATM thefts across Northern Ireland.
Earlier this month, three cash machines were stolen - two from an Asda supermarket in Antrim and another at a Spar filling station on the Glenavy Road near Moira - within 48 hours.
In January, an attempted robbery at a Spar store on the Old Mountfield Road near Killyclogher, four miles from the latest attack, was foiled when neighbours rushed to the scene and shouted at the thieves.
The previous month a 'built-in' cash machi ne was taken from a shop on Tattymoyle Road in Fintona using a digger which was set alight afterwards.