Northern Ireland

Cash machine thefts: What is going on?

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Media captionCCTV shows digger ripping out Dungiven cash machine

Since the start of the year, eight cash machines have been ripped from walls by diggers in Northern Ireland.

The latest, in County Londonderry, was stolen from a shop outside Dungiven at about 04:30 BST on Sunday.

CCTV footage shows the digger driving through a security gate then tearing the machine from the wall.

The raid itself took only about four minutes.

In February, the PSNI established a special task force to deal with the thefts.

Who do police believe are behind the thefts?

A spokesperson for the PSNI said that while investigations are at an early stage, police believe there is more than one gang responsible and that they are not all related.

Image caption A digger was used in the raid in the village of Ahoghill

How much has been stolen?

It is impossible to estimate how much has been stolen because the amount of money stored in cash machines changes constantly.

The exact amount can fluctuate throughout the week, depending on when the machine has been replenished.

There is also the cost associated with the robbery, including replacing expensive machinery, damage to the local economy and the likelihood of criminal finances being redirected into funding further organised crime or terrorism, said the PSNI.

Is it easy to steal a cash machine?

In a word, no.

Deborah Smith, consultant at financial services industry, Logical Intent International, said that most cash machines are equipped with security measures like CCTV, alarms, ink, glue and smart water.

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Cash machine operators also spend large sums of money on security annually.

"The cost varies hugely according to your site," said Ms Smith.

"What they do before the cash machine jobs is assess the site and the history of the general crime in the area to work out what is likely in terms of attacks."

Does the location of these cash machines play a part?

The PSNI said that there appears to be no one area at greater risk than an other.

Image caption Raids on cash machines have taken place across Northern Ireland and over the border

Criminals rarely target a cash machine on the high street or in shopping centres, said Ms Smith.

Instead, they target more remote cash machines with motorway access.

Does more security need to be put in place?

Ron Delnevo, executive director of the ATM Industry Association in Europe, said that when it comes to the Northern Ireland cash machine thefts, preventing access to diggers at night would be a good place to start.

"The building sites need to take even more care of their vehicles and make sure there is a watchman or that the vehicles are immobilised," he said.

One Northern Ireland plant hire manager has called for better security in construction machines.

Plant hire manager Brendan Byrne said "one key" fitted a number of machines.

Ms Smith said that the sad reality is that cash machine operators are constantly having to keep their security systems up to date to be one step ahead of criminals.

"There's never one cure," she said.

Last week, Assistant Chief Constable Barbara Gray said that every single police officer in Northern Ireland is being briefed on the thefts at the moment and that the force is working closely with An Garda Síochána.

Is this only happening in Northern Ireland?

Cash machine attacks are quite common.

In December, cash machine operator Cardtronics issued a report showing that attempts to steal cash have risen from 400 attacks in 2014 to 723 in 2017.

It said one in five incidents in Europe occurred in the UK.

In 41% of cases, cash is stolen, according to the report.

Image caption There was a police presence at the Westway Retail Park in Arbroath

In 2017, a seven-man gang that blew up cash machines across the UK were handed jail sentences ranging from 10 years to life imprisonment.

The gang's getaways were compared to blockbuster movies such as Fast and Furious and the Italian Job after they made off at high-speed in stolen performance cars which were then hidden in a lorry that doubled as a place for the criminals to lie low.

They were finally arrested in the car park of McDonald's in Arbroath, Scotland, hours after they had ripped a cash machine out of a wall at a Co-op in Carnoustie.

How likely is it that there will be more thefts?

Until the criminals are caught, said Mr Delnevo, the thefts are likely to continue.

The PSNI said it is committed to catching those responsible.

"We will continue to work closely with the banking and retail sectors in a bid to prevent any further attacks," said a spokesperson.

"However, it is key that we receive information from the public in order to stop these crimes and get ahead of these criminals. We need the public to report anything suspicious and to come forward to us if they have any information about who the culprits are."

But, Mr Delnevo added, it is important to point out that while a spate of cash machine thefts might make for interesting news, statistically they are not that significant.

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