Wednesday 18 September 2019

Filling station puts up concrete blocks to protect ATM after recent thefts

Concrete blocks stacked beside an ATM machine at a Centra store near Maghera
Concrete blocks stacked beside an ATM machine at a Centra store near Maghera

Lauren Harte

A filling station has resorted to using concrete blocks to protect its ATM machine after a recent spate of cash machine thefts across Northern Ireland.

The Centra store on Glenshane Road near Maghera in Derry has stacked the blocks on either side of its hole-in-the-wall machine to prevent it being targeted by thieves.

They were put in place on Monday after brazen thieves used a digger to rip a cash machine from the wall of O'Kane's filling station in nearby Dungiven in the early hours of Sunday.

CCTV footage of last weekend's robbery shows a gang of masked men approaching the ATM in the digger just after 4am and tearing it from the wall of the filling station, causing significant damage.

The cash machine is then placed in a van that had a hole cut in its roof before the thieves make off.

The entire incident lasted just over four minutes.

Nine ATMs have been stolen in eight separate incidents here this year, with the police stepping up their surveillance of cash machines in a bid to catch those responsible.

Areas targeted by the raiders include Ballymena, Moira, Omagh, Dungannon, Newtownabbey and Irvinestown.

A spokesman for Centra Glenshane said the steps had been taken for "peace of mind".

He added: "The blocks were up years ago when this was happening previously and then taken away when the forecourt was being tarmacked.

"Now they're back up again as a deterrent because of the real risk of the ATM being taken."

Retail Northern Ireland chief executive Glyn Roberts said the action is symptomatic of the concern among business owners caused by the raids.

"This is the most telling image that sums up the extent of fear among retailers that they are going to be targeted next," he added.

"It's no position for any small business owner to be in whereby they are piling up blocks to protect their store as if they are somehow under siege.

"It's terrible that independent retailers are being awoken in the middle of the night to be told that their shop has been smashed up and their ATM robbed.

"That is completely soul-destroying for them."

Mr Roberts added: "From speaking to retailers, there is a sense of dread among them that this weekend they could be next and it's not acceptable for any business owner to feel that way."

Police have defended their response to the ATM thefts, saying they "can't be everywhere at once".

In a post on social media at the weekend, the PSNI in Craigavon said officers simply could not predict which cash machine would be targeted next by the gangs.

"I could sit for hours at an ATM but no sooner am I round the corner than a team of crooks arrive," the post said.

"The idea that we can watch them 24/7 is pure fiction."

Mr Roberts is due to hold a further meeting with the PSNI tomorrow to discuss the ongoing problem of ATM robberies for local retailers.

"We have to continue to press the police to catch the criminal gangs behind these robberies," he added.

"We need to see greater progress and the PSNI pulling out all the stops to get those behind this in front of a court."

Belfast Telegraph

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