When I see a digger I think one of my stores could be next: owner
A retailer has described how the sight of a digger on a road makes him fear that one of his businesses could be next on ATM thieves' hit-list.
Peter McCool is a managing director of his family-run company, which oversees two petrol forecourts and a store - all with external cash machines - in Co Antrim.
Yesterday he was part of a Retail NI delegation that held a crisis meeting with members of the Policing Board to discuss the problem.
It follows a ninth cash machine raid since the start of the year, in Bushmills on Tuesday.
So far this year 10 ATMs have been stolen, with two machines targeted in one raid.
Mr McCool said the string of heists - others have taken place across the border - had left him deeply concerned.
He told the Belfast Telegraph: "Every time you see a digger on the road, you think, 'Where is it going?'"
Mr McCool explained that a digger and lorry stolen earlier this month in Co Tyrone had later been recovered not far from one of his shops.
Earlier this week it was reported that the machinery - taken from a property near Augher - could have been stolen by thieves planning a future heist.
"It was discovered by police in a forest two miles away from the village," said Mr McCool.
"Any retailer with an ATM is worried if there's any building works around with a digger.
"The gangs' MO (modus operandi) is this - 'Here's a building site with a digger, so where's the nearest ATM?'"
Mr McCool (56) said the raids had prompted concern across the retail industry.
"Everybody's worried they could come into work and find a hole where the ATM used to be," he added. "It's a big concern. The main concerns are the loss of trade and not having the facility. You worry the building will get severely damaged."
The businessman explained that many retailers were questioning if it was worthwhile retaining their ATMs.
"There's not a lot that we can do about it, other than get rid of the machines," he said.
"Other retailers are contemplating getting rid of them. We would have to consider it at the end of the contracts if this continues. Obviously, we want the perpetrators caught."
Mr McCool defended the PSNI's efforts to tackle the spate of raids, including establishing a taskforce in February to clamp down on the thieves.
"I've every sympathy for the police because they can't be in all places at all times," he said.
"They can't stake out every ATM in the country. I believe they're taking it seriously."
Mr McCool said the consequences of being targeted extended far beyond the cost of the repairs and loss of revenue.
"In a lot cases these ATMs being ripped out are from family businesses which have invested in their stores over the years," he stressed.
"Over and beyond the attack on businesses, it is an attack on the heart and soul on the community."