Villages feel 'under siege' as 15th cash machine ripped from wall
THIEVES used a digger to rip an ATM from a wall in Co Antrim.
It is the 15th theft of a cash machine on the island of Ireland since March last year.
In the latest robbery, the culprits used a tractor and trailer to transport a digger to the Market Square area of Bushmills, Co Antrim, at around 3.30am yesterday.
The excavator was then used to rip the machine from the wall. Both the tractor and the digger were set alight and destroyed by fire, with police and the fire service attending the scene.
Traditional Unionist Voice MLA Jim Allister said a lack of police presence had left the area "wide open for these gangs" and the "criminals were winning". The Diamond area of the town remained sealed off as police continued their investigations.
There is concern in Bushmills over the loss of the machine just ahead of the busy Easter holidays.
One witness said: "At about 3.20am, I heard a massive crash followed by another crash. I though it was thunder. It's unreal that this has happened in our village.
"It now means people will not be able to get cash, especially coming up to the Easter holidays, when the village will be very busy with tourists, given its location in proximity to Bushmills Distillery and the Giant's Causeway."
A short time later another vehicle was found burnt out at the nearby Craigboney Road near Bushmills. It is believed both incidents are linked.
There has been a spate of thefts of cashpoints at various mainly rural locations across Northern Ireland over recent months.
On Friday, police issued an appeal for communities to be on the look-out for heavy plant machinery operating in the early hours of the morning. They also urged builders to ensure their machinery was secured, revealing one incident was thwarted because a digger was fitted with a functioning immobiliser.
"We need communities to help be our eyes and ears," said PSNI Detective Chief Inspector David Henderson. Police have set up a special team of detectives to investigate the thefts. They have also upped patrols at vulnerable and high-risk locations.
Police have defended their response to the spate of thefts, saying they "can't be everywhere at once" and called on the public's support to try and catch those responsible.
Over recent days police have posted several updates of their officers visiting cash machines throughout Northern Ireland.
"We don't have crystal balls," one officer said on Facebook in response to criticism of police actions.
There are concerns communities could be left without cash machines. Retail NI, which represents independent traders, has said shop owners feel "under siege" and that they will be next.
Mr Allister has expressed his anger at the latest theft after a similar raid in Ahoghill earlier this month.
He said: "The paucity of policing in north Antrim is, I believe, making life easy for the criminals. With barely a police officer or police vehicle available within north Antrim during the night, with such service as there is withdrawn to Coleraine, the area has been left wide open for these gangs, who are not ignorant of the opportunities lack of policing presents.
"After Ahoghill, I expected targeting of ATMs, in terms of surveillance and increased patrols by the PSNI, but once more the criminals are winning. This is not good enough.
"This is not just another ATM theft, but the ripping of a vital service out of the village of Bushmills."