Growing crisis over ATM raids

There can only be enormous concern that, despite the PSNI's high profile launch of a task force earlier this year in response to the alarming rise in cash machine thefts, criminal gangs are still engaged in a virtual rampage which is endangering the entire future of businesses in a range of areas.

The two latest outrages took place on the northern outskirts of Belfast and in Co Fermanagh in the space of 48 hours and bring to 11 the total number of ATM raids on each side of the border in a period of just six months.

Considerable damage was caused during the attacks on a Danske Bank branch at Mallusk in Newtownabbey last Friday and on a filling station on the Dromore Road in Irvinestown in the early hours of Sunday.

Both cases followed an all too familiar pattern involving a stolen digger which was used to wreck one side of a building and remove the cash machine, with the perpetrators escaping within a matter of minutes.

They left behind scenes of serious destruction, with the Irvinestown outlet forced to suspend trading, customers denied access to important services and staff alarmed about their employment prospects.

The fact that, not for the first time, the abandoned digger was set alight beside a set of petrol pumps has also prompted fears that a major and life threatening fire could easily have taken place.

Police have made arrests over recent months, and are clearly devoting significant resources to their investigations, but it is disturbing that the gang members are unperturbed and continuing to find new targets.

Security measures on building sites certainly need to be reviewed urgently, as the ATM raids simply could not be carried out unless a digger can be seized in the immediate vicinity.

The Retail NI group was fully entitled to describe the situation as a crisis, and it will be expected that the meeting it is organising with representatives of the construction sector and the banks will be given a comprehensive briefing by senior police officers on progress in their inquiries.

Ultimately, normality can only return to commercial and community life in many rural and urban districts when a breakthrough by detectives results in lengthy jail sentences for some particularly ruthless and well organised offenders.

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