Northern Ireland news

PSNI accused of slow response to 'out of control' ATM theft gangs

A digger ripped a cash machine from the wall of a petrol station on the outskirts of Dungiven, Co Derry, yesterday morning. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin

A CRIMINAL gang behind an ATM theft in Co Derry have been branded "scumbags".

A cash machine was ripped from the wall of O'Kane's filling station in Dungiven early yesterday – the eighth such theft this year alone.

The petrol station on Feeny Road in the Co Derry town was targeted at about 4.15am.

Thieves stole a digger from a building site and used it to tear the ATM from the side of the filling station, causing substantial damage.

Read More: Timeline of cash machine thefts 

It is understood the digger was driven from a site almost a mile away.

Read More: PSNI appeal for heavy plant machinery to be locked up after spate of ATM robberies

Unlike several previous robberies, the digger was not set alight. Forensics officers were seen examining the vehicle at the filling station yesterday.

It is understood three men wearing balaclavas were involved in the raid.

The thieves lowered the ATM into a Citroen Berlingo van with a cut-off roof.

Part of the machine was left on the ground. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin

Shop owner Martin O'Kane told the Press Association that he is unlikely to request a new cash machine.

"The men who did this are just scumbags," he said.

"There are going to be less and less ATMs about now because of these attacks. There is one basically happening every week now."

Despite the establishment of a specialist PSNI taskforce aimed at tackling the problem, ATM thefts are on the rise.

SDLP MLA Dolores Kelly, a member of the Policing Board, said officers have not kept pace with the crime gangs.

"The police response does appear to have been slow," she said.

"They did set up a taskforce but what does that mean in practical terms?"

Ms Kelly said although there was an "opportunistic element" in ATM thefts, the crimes have "risen in popularity and success rates and so far the police have not caught up".

The recent spate of robberies was raised at last week's meeting of the Policing Board.

Ms Kelly said although it was unclear exactly how much money has been stolen so far, the gangs "obviously find it lucrative enough to keep going".

She said she would raise the issue again at the Policing Board's performance review committee.

Fellow Policing Board member, DUP MLA Keith Buchanan, urged police to step up their response.

"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."

Glyn Roberts, chief executive of Retail NI, warned that the criminal gangs behind the thefts are "out of control" and have to be stopped.

He said ATM thefts were the "biggest threat" to rural businesses "in a generation" and accused the gangs of "systematically targeting independent retailers".

Mr Roberts is seeking an urgent meeting with PSNI chief constable George Hamilton and Policing Board chair Anne Connolly.

He said the spate of thefts was "soul-destroying" for business owners who "feel under siege, and are asking themselves if they will be next".

Mr Roberts said several members have told him they plan remove their cash machines in case they are targeted.

The theft came after police appealed to businesses to lock up heavy machinery over the weekend.

PSNI Detective Chief Inspector David Henderson said he understood that the public was concerned by the "despicable" thefts.

"I cannot emphasise enough we are committed to catching those responsible and have a dedicated team of detectives working across Northern Ireland specifically focusing on this crime," he said.

He said officers need the public to report anything suspicious.

He also called on people "either using or storing heavy plant machinery... on facilities near ATM sites to ensure that these machines are kept locked, secured and immobilised to prevent them from being stolen and used in an ATM theft".

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