We can’t be everywhere at once, say police hunting ATM raiders in Northern Ireland
Police have defended their response to the recent spate of ATM thefts across Northern Ireland, saying they "can't be everywhere at once".
The PSNI is under pressure after brazen thieves used a digger to rip a cash machine from the wall of O'Kanes Filling Station in Dungiven, Co Londonderry, yesterday morning.
This brings the total number of ATMs stolen this year to nine following eight separate incidents.
But in a Facebook post, an officer at PSNI Craigavon said police simply couldn't predict which cash machine would be targeted next.
"I could sit for hours at an ATM but no sooner am I round the corner than a team of crooks arrive," the officer said.
"The idea that we can watch them 24/7 is pure fiction."
Meanwhile, Detective Chief Inspector David Henderson acknowledged the concerns of the public and business community, saying police remained determined to catch those behind these "despicable" crimes.
"I cannot emphasise this enough: we are committed to catching those responsible and have a dedicated team of detectives working across Northern Ireland specifically focusing on this crime.
"We will continue to work closely with the banking and retail sectors in a bid to prevent any further attacks and bring the reckless actions of these brazen criminals to an end."
Det Chief Insp Henderson also said the public had a role in stopping ATM thefts
"To catch the people responsible we need the public's support," he said.
"We need the public to report anything suspicious and to come forward to us if they have any information about who the culprits are."
His comments follow questions over whether a PSNI task force has been allocated enough resources to catch those responsible.
Retail NI chief executive Glyn Roberts said: "I don't doubt the commitment of individual officers, they are totally dedicated and committed to trying to catch these gangsters. I just want to ensure that all aspects of the PSNI are pushing in the right direction.
"It's very hard to protect your business against a digger that's going to smash holes in the side of your premises."
DUP MLA and Policing Board member Keith Buchanan called for police to step up their investigation.
"Police must ensure that adequate resources are focused on this crime, which is disproportionately impacting upon rural communities," he said.
"These are areas where many have already seen their local bank branch close, and ATM machines are the only source available to access their money."
The DUP will raise the issue with the Chief Constable this week.
Shop owners Martin and Josie O'Kane said they are unlikely to replace the stolen ATM.
"The men who did this are just scum," Mr O'Kane said.
"There are going to be less and less ATMs about now because of these attacks.
"There is one basically happening every week now. I probably won't get another cash machine in again, and that will be the local community losing out."
Unlike recent incidents, the digger used to forcibly remove the machine was not burned out.
As forensic officers dusted the machinery for fingerprints, the O'Kanes took the decision to reopen the shop.
"We're in shock, but there's no point crying over spilled milk," Ms O'Kane said.
"Our ATM definitely got a lot of use. The community will miss the facility. There's another one at the very top of Dungiven but it's off the main road, we're on the main road and used very much."
Sinn Fein councillor Kathleen McGurk expressed concern that Dungiven may soon be left without any cash facilities for residents following Ulster Bank's closure in 2018, it was the last of the banks in the area.
"There's no incentive any more for the shopkeepers to keep ATM's on their premises. It's just making them targets for these attacks.
"It's just another blow to the local community. These rural communities really need these facilities; these attacks are abhorrent."
Recent months have seen ATMs stolen from businesses in Ballymena, Moira, Omagh, Dungannon, Newtownabbey and Irvinestown.
Nine ATMs stolen in eight separate incidents this year
2am Friday, February 1
Asda Supermarket, Junction Retail Park, Ballymena Road, Antrim - 2 ATM machines
4am Saturday, February 15
Glendale filling station, Killyclogher Road, Omagh
4.05am Sunday, March 24
Spar filling station, Dromore Road, Irvinestown, Co Fermanagh
4am Sunday, April 7
O'Kane's Garage, Foreglen Road, Dungiven, Co Derry
3am Monday, April 1
Business premises, Brook Street, Ahoghill, Co Antrim
3.10am Friday, March 22
Danske Bank branch, Mallusk Road, Newtownabbey
3am Saturday, February 2
Spar filling station, Glenavy Road, Moira
4.15am Sunday, March 10
Mace filling station, Ballygawley Road, Dungannon