Thursday 19 September 2019

Months of surveillance pays off for gardaí with arrests of ATM theft gang

PSNI is also working to end cross-Border crime spree

Ray Arnold cleans up the damage across the road from the scene of the foiled raid on Main Street in Virginia. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Ray Arnold cleans up the damage across the road from the scene of the foiled raid on Main Street in Virginia. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Robin Schiller

Robin Schiller

Months of co-operation between gardaí and their PSNI colleagues resulted in members of a prolific ATM theft gang being arrested this week, during yet another attempt to steal a cash machine.

On this occasion, specialist Garda units had been watching the crime group for at least two weeks before they swooped as the raiders tried to steal an ATM in Virginia, Co Cavan. Three men - who are all related - remain in Garda custody and are being quizzed under anti-gangland legislation.

A grab from Virgin TV footage of arrests after the attempted robbery
A grab from Virgin TV footage of arrests after the attempted robbery

The arrests mark a major boost for both gardaí and the PSNI in the fight against what has become somewhat of a crime epidemic, but the battle continues. Although three men are in custody, detectives believe that a further four men central to their criminal enterprise are at large, with at least one of these being actively sought for involvement in this week's botched raid.

Apart from four of the gang's associates still at large, two other crime groups working on both sides of the Border are believed to be involved in the specialised theft of ATMs, while security agencies have suggested that copycat criminals may also have carried out some raids.

Security sources have stressed that, despite what has been described as a "major success" for gardaí, they are not resting on their laurels.

The investigation into the attempted Cavan raid remains live while initiatives are ongoing against the other organised crime groups involved in the specialist thefts.

The scene of the foiled raid. Photo: Steve Humphreys
The scene of the foiled raid. Photo: Steve Humphreys

The ATM theft spree targeting rural towns led to gardaí issuing a national alert for heavy machinery owners to adequately store their vehicles, and for increased cash-machine security measures to be introduced.

The crime gang targeted this week is predominately based in a cross-Border town between counties Monaghan and Armagh.

Two brothers, aged 28 and 25, as well as their 61-year-old uncle, who all reside at the same address, are currently in Garda custody.

The older bother is considered an "expert digger driver" and gardaí suspect he operated the heavy machinery used to bust at least six ATMs.

Gardaí have previously dealt with the gang suspect for crimes including vehicle theft, while he is known to PSNI officers for more serious crime.

As specialist gardaí, including the Emergency Response Unit and surveillance officers, swooped on the gang, a connected raid was planned at a property in Moynalty, Co Meath.

This is where detectives suspected the gang hid its proceeds of crime, and more than €300,000 worth of cash was later recovered along with vehicles. It took gardaí several hours to count the large amount of money.

While this week's arrests were the result of a two-week operation, security agencies have been monitoring this particular gang for several months.

In a previous operation, one source said, a bizarre scenario developed where the gang was aware it was under surveillance and appeared to taunt its watchers.

"There were times where the gang appeared to know they were under surveillance and you had a situation where the criminals were watching the gardaí watching them," a source said.

A similar pattern developed on Tuesday morning's operation, albeit too late for some of the ATM theft crew.

As the gang attempted to put the mechanical digger into position to steal the cash machine, it noticed Garda activity in the area and attempted to disperse.

The suspected JCB driver was arrested at the scene, while his younger brother was caught in a hotel toilet 12 hours later. Their uncle was detained in Meath that morning, while a fourth man suspected of active involvement remains at large.

A total of 31 ATM thefts have been carried out on both sides of the Border this year alone, with at the very least six being directly linked to the crime gang currently in custody.

Some €480,000 was taken in highly-planned raids in Kells which happened in the early hours of Good Friday morning.

Two ATMs were ripped from separate banks on the town's John Street before the raiders fled in separate vehicles.

In the highly planned operation metal spikes were placed outside the local Garda station to hamper the emergency response.

The same crime gang is also being investigated for a €70,000 ATM robbery in Castleblayney, Co Monaghan, at around 3am on April 2.

Irish Independent

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News