Editor's Viewpoint: ATM thieves remain threat to rural lives
A number of arrests and some pending prosecutions created an impression that police were getting on top of the criminal gangs who had been targeting ATMs on both sides of the border.
But as events at the weekend showed, others have stepped into the void created by the police action, stealing one ATM from a hospital facility on the outskirts of Belfast, trying to steal another from another hospital and causing massive damage to a shop and petrol station in Ballynahinch in another failed robbery. Thieves also targeted an ATM just across the border.
The Ballynahinch robbery bid was by far the most serious. Having failed to rip the ATM from the wall, the robbers trashed the inside of the premises, stealing cigarettes and cash, and then brought the forecourt roof crashing down on the petrol pumps. This could have resulted in an explosion if the petrol lines had been breached.
While the damage caused to the family business was severe and sympathy must go out to those who had worked so hard to build up the facility, the impact of the robbery goes much further. Initially several people have been thrown out of work until the extent of the damage is assessed and remedial work undertaken. There is also impact on the wider community from these thefts and attempted thefts. Naturally the thieves target isolated rural businesses where there is less chance of being spotted or arrested before they make their escape.
But these ATMs are vital to people living in such areas. Bank closures have meant that ATMs in shop and petrol stations are the lifeblood of small rural communities.
One provider has withdrawn its machines from Northern Ireland and there must be a danger that others could follow suit or at least reduce the number of their machines.
It is obvious that police need all the assistance they can get from the public. This is not a victimless crime and ultimately can affect the most vulnerable in society.
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Since these gangs operate across the border, close co-operation between police forces is vital and with a former PSNI officer now heading the Garda, that should be more easily accomplished than in the past.
With Christmas approaching, the thieves obviously believe the ATMs will be carrying large amounts of money and more locations may be targeted. The best Christmas present for the retailers and society at large is to put these thieves behind bars.