Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Taskforce is needed to stop ATM raiders

The latest raid on an ATM machine, this time in Fermanagh early yesterday, is the fifth such attack since the beginning of the year
The latest raid on an ATM machine, this time in Fermanagh early yesterday, is the fifth such attack since the beginning of the year

Editor's Viewpoint

The latest raid on an ATM machine, this time in Fermanagh early yesterday, is the fifth such attack since the beginning of the year.

A virtual epidemic of this kind of lawlessness raises fears that large swathes of Northern Ireland, particularly in rural areas, could be left without cash if ATMs are withdrawn.

The perception that the problem is largely confined to west of the Bann was confounded last Friday by a raid on a cash machine at Mallusk.

Other attacks have taken place in Antrim, Omagh, Moira and Dungannon. One ATM operator has already withdrawn its service because of the raids.

There is a typical pattern to these attacks. The robbers use a digger stolen from an area close to their targeted ATM, and tear it from the wall.

In these days of so many bank closures, particularly in rural areas, it is difficult to overestimate the reliance which many people have on the availability and efficiency of ATM machines.

Online banking can replicate many of the services carried out by local branches in accessing cash, but the traditional method is still favoured by many people, and not just the elderly, at a time when there are so few alternatives available.

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Glyn Roberts, head of Retail NI, is not scaremongering when he says the spate of ATM raids will have a significant impact on rural communities, if they are allowed to continue at the present rate.

His further claim that there are no "no-go" areas for these criminal gangs is worrying if it is proved to be true.

It must be said that if these criminals are not exactly acting with impunity, they seem to be going about their dastardly business with a considerable degree of ease.

It would be tempting, though perhaps a fallacy, to try to trace a cause and effect between the frequency of such attacks and the decline of police officers in rural areas.

However, the question must be asked if the longer response times by police to such attacks actually emboldens the gangsters who are all too aware of the fewer officers available in the countryside.

Perhaps Chief Constable George Hamilton should consider setting up a dedicated province-wide unit, to take the initiative to the criminals who currently seem to act with such disregard for the law.

Such a move would attract overwhelming public support, and this in turn might strengthen the Chief Constable's hand in dealing with his paymasters on the Policing Board.

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