ATM digger theft accused 'pressurised' into taking part, court told
A man has been remanded in custody charged with theft after a cash machine containing £60,000 was ripped from a shop wall with a digger.
Lee Wilson (31) of Benview Drive in Belfast, was one of two men arrested following the theft of the ATM from the service station at Nutts Corner, Co Antrim.
Significant damage was caused to the shop when Ulster Bank-owned machine, costing £16,000, was ripped from the wall with a stolen digger in the early hours of Tuesday.
The incident at the Tully Road premises was the latest in a spate of ATM thefts in Northern Ireland this year - with 15 stolen so far in 2019.
Wilson appeared before a district judge in Ballymena on Wednesday afternoon facing a total of seven charges.
Judge Nigel Broderick refused an application for bail, after expressing concern that Wilson might commit further offences or interfere with the live police investigation.
The court heard that Wilson has made full admissions to police in respect of his role in the crime but claimed he had been "pressurised" into taking part by others.
The judge told the accused there was no dispute on whether he committed the offences.
He said Wilson had engaged in "very serious offending".
"There have been a number of similar-type offences in this jurisdiction and obviously that's a matter of concern to the court and the police," he said.
At the outset of the hearing before Ballymena Magistrates' Court, Wilson, unshaven and wearing a grey jumper, nodded and said "Yep" when asked if he understood the charges he was facing.
A police officer, who told the court she could connect the accused with the charges, said Wilson claims he was "pressurised" into the crime.
She said he told detectives that he was told to drive a Land Rover jeep to a primary school close to the filling station and then drive to the forecourt when ordered.
The officer said the stolen vehicle had a "huge hole in the roof" and, when the ATM was lowered through it, Wilson drove it away.
She said police were in close pursuit of the Land Rover within five or six minutes of the theft. At that point, she said, Wilson drove it on to a roadside verge and tried to flee.
"He ran off into a field and was then apprehended by police officers a short time later," she said.
The officer said police believed at least four people were involved in the crime.
Another man arrested on Tuesday morning - a 26-year-old - remained in police custody for questioning on Wednesday.
The officer told the judge that Wilson was co-operative during police interviews and made a "full admission".
His solicitor, Paddy Hunt, told the court that his client - a married father-of-two - was a "bit player".
"He was a very small fish in what might be described as a larger pond," he said.
The lawyer, who described the raid as "inefficient and unprofessional", said Wilson was suffering from anxiety and depression and saw the opportunity to make only "several hundred pounds".
"He entirely accepted his responsibility and did not prevaricate with police," he added.
The solicitor stressed that his client had no relevant criminal record and had never come to the attention of the police before.
He said it had not been a "great idea" to jump into criminality at its "deepest end".
Wilson stood in the dock accused of stealing an Ulster Bank ATM valued at £16,000 containing £59,090 cash.
He is also accused of stealing the Hitachi EX100 digger used in the incident, and subsequently setting it on fire, and causing criminal damage to the shop on the Tully Road that housed the ATM.
Wilson faces further charges of aggravated vehicle taking in relation to the blue Land Rover Defender that was used in the theft and causing damage to it.
He has also been charged with driving without a licence and insurance.
The accused was remanded in custody to appear at Antrim Magistrates' Court via videolink on May 21.