The threat of further ATM thefts is “very real”, a detective has warned.
The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) are patrolling areas where they believe cash machines are most vulnerable to thieves.
It comes after officers foiled an attempt to steal an ATM at a rural service station in Co Antrim in the early hours of Tuesday.
Two men, aged 26 and 31, were arrested following the audacious theft attempt using a digger to rip the cash machine from the wall of the premises on the Tully Road at Nutts Corner.
It happened at about 3.30am on Tuesday. The stolen ATM has been recovered, police said.
The men remained in custody on Tuesday evening being questioned on suspicion of theft and a number of other offences.
The attack was the latest in a spate of 15 ATM thefts in Northern Ireland this year.
Gordon Stewart – whose family has owned the service station for 33 years and employs 22 staff – said it was the fourth attempt to steal an ATM at the premises in the last 10 years.
Detective Superintendent Rachel Shields has warned the threat of more thefts is “very real”.
“This morning’s arrests demonstrate how the community and police can successfully work together to tackle crime,” she said.
“However, this does not mean we will be complacent as we recognise there are a number of gangs carrying out these attacks on ATMs and the threat of more thefts is very real.
“We will continue to do all we can to catch those responsible. Tonight again we will have local police patrolling areas which could be vulnerable to an attack and detectives remain dedicated to investigating the thefts that have taken place.
“I assure you this remains a key priority for police.”
Det Supt Shields thanked members of the public for reporting the latest incident while it was ongoing, saying it allowed police to direct a significant number of resources to the area.
She also urged those who own heavy plant machinery to make sure it is secured.
“I want to remind anyone who owns or uses heavy plant machinery to take every possible step to secure and immobilise them,” she said.
“If criminals cannot steal diggers, they cannot tear out ATMs. This will also mean that these expensive pieces of machinery are not destroyed or burnt out.”
Earlier, Mr Stewart – who lives close by to the service station – described how he was woken by the incident as it was taking place, but said by the time he had got into his wheelchair and reached the scene the raiders had set the digger alight and fled.
Mr Stewart said he is determined to open the service station again as soon as possible.
“An hour after these guys have cleared up, I hope to have the place open again,” he said.
“Just check all round, electrician-wise, builder-wise, just get her tidied up and we’ll see what we can do.”
Local council candidate Mervyn Rea described the loss of the ATM as a disaster for the surrounding rural community.
“The local community depends so much on ATMs, this was one done before, and all I can say is it is great that police have already made arrests,” the Ulster Unionist Party representative said.
“This is a huge filling station and shop, it’s extremely busy on a busy road which leads to the airport. The business it will be losing because of this will be horrendous to them.”
SDLP council candidate Thomas Burns said he was pleased police had made arrests and that no cash had been lost.
“The brazen attitude of these thieves to rob local communities in broad daylight is shameful,” he added.
Retail NI chief executive Glyn Roberts added his congratulations to police.
“This is welcome news that at long last we have arrests arising from these robberies. Credit is due to the PSNI officers who made the arrests,” he said.
“While we have made progress, yet another independent retailer has to deal with the aftermath of a seriously damaged store.
“I am getting extremely concerned at reports from members with ATMs, who have not even been attacked, who are now seeing their insurance premiums dramatically increasing.”