Caught on CCTV: anatomy of typical break-in
While the country sleeps, gangs of burglars are using the motorway networks of Ireland to target homes and businesses. CCTV images provide the anatomy of a typical late-night break-in being experienced by shop owners across rural Ireland, writes Paul Williams
Masked like a ninja, a nimble burglar peers into the camera after slowly lowering himself behind a shop counter from the ceiling above.
The clear black-and-white footage was captured by a night-vision camera in Ballybrittas filling station, in a small village on the old Dublin to Limerick road in County Laois, around 1.30am on October 31 last.
The film is the latest addition to a growing library of similar footage in the possession of the shop owner Dick Donoher - this was the sixth robbery or attempted robbery on his premises since 2009.
In this latest raid, the burglars got away with more than €6,000 worth of cigarettes and cash.
The thieves had arrived at the shop in a car and went to the rear of the building, where they got up on the roof and removed the sheeting to get inside.
The footage shows what looks like snowflakes as the criminals break a hole in the ceiling just over the cash register and cigarette machine.
A door is slowly lowered down first to block the alarm sensor before the ninja-clad burglar then slips into the shop.
A second pair of feet is momentarily visible as an accomplice gets down on the other side of the door.
The 'ninja' is handed down an axe, which he uses to smash open the cigarette machine and minutes later a number of black sacks are hoisted up into the ceiling.
Working with at least one accomplice, the man gained access to the premises by removing galvanised sheets from the roof.
The thieves were clearly experienced in breaking into premises and were familiar with the lay-out of the shop, suggesting that they had been there before.
They worked slowly and methodically, with the whole operation lasting about an hour from start to finish.
Gardaí suspect that the same gang was responsible for another break-in at the village post office a few days earlier, when a large quantity of cigarettes and cash was taken.
There had also been a number of previously unsuccessful attempts to rob the same post office, which is a few hundred yards from the filling station.
'I am getting fed up with this - the only answer is that we need more local gardaí patrolling the roads at night," says Dick Donoher as he watches the footage again. The Donoher family have been targeted on average once a year, with three successful break-ins and three attempts, all of which resulted in extensive damage to the property.
In July 2014, another gang, believed to be Eastern European, broke down the shutters at the front of the filling station and kicked in the door. On that occasion, they heaved the shop's cigarette machine onto a car trailer that had been stolen earlier from a local house.
The thieves wheeled the trailer up a hill and into a field, where it was smashed open and the cash and cigarettes inside taken.
However, Mr Donoher's son Richie had been alerted by the shop alarm and gave chase to a BMW that sped off as he arrived at the scene.
"When they stopped the car in Kildare, it was being driven by an eastern European," Richie Donoher recalled.
"There was no evidence to suggest that he was involved in the break-in and the gardaí couldn't hold him."
The young businessman, who runs the filling station with his father, blames the crime scourge on a lack of garda resources and the opening of the nearby M7 motorway.
His father says that the spate of robberies has undermined the family's peace of mind, as well as costing them dearly in financial terms.
Dick Donoher added: "This worries me a lot. Each time a break-in or attempted break-in takes place, they do dreadful damage which is costly to repair.
"We can't rest easy at night, wondering when they will come back again and we are suspicious of anyone we don't know coming into the shop in case they are sussing it out for another hit.
"It makes you very paranoid."
The Donohers believe that the shop's CCTV system recorded clear pictures of two Eastern European men in a white BMW like the one that Richard chased getting petrol at the shop some weeks before the robbery took place in 2014.
"They used the visit to scope out the shop and see where the cigarette machine was," Richard said.
However, he says that the gardaí have been unable to pin down any link between the two incidents.
"It's like a free-for-all and the more times the thieves get away with it the more they return, it's getting easier for them every time."
And he asked: "How are we going to win in a situation like this?"
A number of gangs that specialise in this type of break-ins have been identified by gardaí and are currently being investigated as part of the new crackdown on rural crime, which is codenamed Operation Thor.
No one has ever been charged for any of the raids on the Donoher's filling station, which date back as far as 2011.
For now, the Donoher family are resigned to the fact that they are likely to be targeted again.
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