Paramilitaries may be profiting from a spate of ATM thefts in Northern Ireland, a senior detective has warned.
Detective Chief Inspector David Henderson said while there was no evidence of direct paramilitary involvement in the seven ATM robberies since the start of the year, he suggested the groups may be siphoning off some of the cash taken.
Mr Henderson said police believe “several” criminal gangs have been responsible for the attacks. In the most recent incident, in the early hours on Monday, thieves stole a digger from a nearby construction site to rip an ATM from a shop in Brook Street, in Ahoghill, Co Antrim.
They used a specially adapted vehicle, with the roof cut off to enable the stolen ATM to be lowered in and driven away.
“It’s a live investigation but what I can said is we are actively looking at it being several gangs involved in these crimes,” said Mr Henderson.
“We have no evidence that paramilitaries are involved, but all crime in Northern Ireland usually goes back to paramilitaries, whether committed by them or whether they tax the perpetrators of the crime and take some the criminal assets from them.”
ATM theft in Ahoghill during the early hours of this morning. If you have info, please call us on 101, quote reference 144 01/04/19. https://t.co/i7KNQK3DWu
— PSNI (@PoliceServiceNI) April 1, 2019
A number of ATMs have also been targeted in the Irish Republic in recent months. Mr Henderson said it was possible the incidents south of the border were linked to those in Northern Ireland.
He said catching the perpetrators was a “key priority”.
“As in all of these ATM thefts, the actions of these criminals have not only caused immediate financial harm to the business that was targeted, but they have understandably caused fear in the community and impacted upon a vital service many local people rely on,” he said.
“In areas where ATMs have been stolen, local people may have to travel considerable distances to find an alternative way to withdraw money and the livelihoods of the business owners who have worked for years to build up their businesses is also jeopardised.
“There’s also the loss of very expensive machinery, which cause delays in production, damage to the local economy and the likelihood of criminal finances being redirected back into funding further organised crime or terrorism.
“The reckless actions of these criminals are despicable and I want to assure the public our dedicated team of detectives working across Northern Ireland specifically focusing on this crime is actively working with the banking industry and retailers.
“We are doing all we can to catch the people responsible – it is a key priority for us.
“The key to stopping these crimes and getting ahead of these criminals is information from the public.”
Retail NI chief executive Glyn Roberts said: “If the criminal gangs behind these ATM robberies are not stopped there is a real danger many rural communities will lose local access to cash.
“They are attacking local family-owned small businesses which are the backbone of the rural economy, providing an invaluable service to the local community.
“The gangs behind these attacks need to be caught and put in jail for a very long time.”
DUP leader Arlene Foster joined party colleagues at police headquarters in Belfast on Monday to meet senior officers to discuss the crime surge.
“The loss of ATMs across Northern Ireland has been a devastating blow for many rural areas and particularly for the businesses who have seen such destruction of their premises,” she said.
“The cost to construction firms with damaged and stolen plant as well the as the cost to shop owners.”