23/03/2010

Cops 'Foil ATM Robbers'

Cops left red-faced last year as criminal gangs repeatedly hit isolated bank cash machines have hit back.

ATM ram-raids - which totalled more than a dozen last year - have dropped to just one so far in 2010, and all because of 'secret' security measures agreed with the banks, the cash-handling sector and building contractors.

While the PSNI would not discuss specific details of measures being undertaken, heavy-duty diggers that had previously been stolen with ease from sites close to the targeted cash machines are now being subject to more rigorous overnight security.

A police spokeswoman said that organised gangs have taken around £500,000 from cash machines across Northern Ireland, in many cases using stolen heavy plant machinery.

"Criminals who steal this type of equipment to target ATMs know how to operate heavy plant and they will steal anything that is not properly secured.

"Failure to take appropriate steps to immobilise the machinery means it could be stolen, and it’s likely that another ATM will be attacked," she said, noting that fitting an immobiliser or removing vital parts can achieve this.

On one site, in Glengormley (pictured) - which is just minutes from no less than EIGHT bank cash machines - shuttering on diggers left overnight has now been replaced by steel covers, which don't just seal the doors, but also secure the roof and rear of the plant equipment's cab.

While there has also been an unspecified reduction in the amount of cash being carried in individual ATMs, builders are now thought to be taking these and other extra precautions on site.

Ulster Unionist MLA, Danny Kinahan, has pointed out that an embarrassing number of the Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) were stolen in raids across the Province last year, and welcomed news that the figure has now fallen to just one.
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In December, just yards from Mr Kinahan's home, in Templepatrick, a filling station on the main route from the city to Belfast International Airport was hit just days after a supermarket on the main street in nearby Kells was also ram-raided and the ATM removed using construction equipment.

He said: "One of the questions I posed to police was how this gang was accessing these vehicles and suggested that one of the ways to prevent the thefts was to ensure that building sites and the vehicles themselves were well secured.

"I would encourage local developers to safeguard their property, which will surely be a deterrent to the ATM thieves."

Local cash operators - such as Mallusk's Group 4 Securicor and north Belfast's Brinks - are also reducing the value of currency with the network's overall operators announcing it has been co-operating with the police to implement a range of additional security measures.

While the Link network provider said it would be inappropriate to detail all the specific steps taken, it did reveal that a cash limit was being put into operation in selected ATMs.

"These reduced limits will remain in place for as long as it is deemed necessary," said a spokesman.

While still offering a reward of up to £25,000 for anyone who provides information which leads to the ATM thieves being caught, it is believed the previous replenishment value of £140,000 per ATM has been significantly reduced.

This followed a pre-Christmas summit when Paul Goggins, the NIO Security Minister met the PSNI, the NI Policing Board and senior representatives from the banking sector to counter the growth in attacks.

The PSNI said 13 ATMs have now been stolen in raids within the last year, although there have been 23 attempted raids on cash machines across Northern Ireland since last March.

During the current year there has been just one raid, in mid January, with the criminals returning to the less secure border area of Crossmaglen, south Armagh, where around 6am on a quiet Saturday they used a stolen digger to rip the village's only ATM from the wall.

This was a set-back, in an otherwise dramatic drop in attacks, although the PSNI have yet to make any arrests in connection with any of the crimes.

(BMcC/GK)

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