Newspaper for Crossmaglen, South Armagh, Newry and Down.

Man charged with ATM theft as firm vows ‘business as usual’ 

A Silverbridge man has been charged in connection with the theft of a cash machine from a filling station near Bessbrook in the early hours of Friday morning last, which sparked a cross border hunt for the gang responsible and left a police officer requiring hospital treatment for serious injuries.

Adam Grant (24) from St. Brigid’s Terrace, Tullydonnell, appeared before a special sitting of Monaghan District Court on Saturday, charged with causing £12,000 worth of criminal damage and possession of stolen property.

Grant was one of three men allegedly trying to force open the stolen cash machine when disturbed by Gardaí on patrol near Inniskeen on Friday morning.  The other two men fled on foot and remain at large.  The court heard the accused was using a consaw to attempt to open the ATM, which contained £52,000 in cash, all of which, it is believed, has been recovered.

In follow up searches carried out in Newry and Crossmaglen on Saturday evening, police arrested three men aged 40, 27 and 24. All were subsequently released pending further enquiries.

Around 3.30am on Friday, a four-man gang used a digger, stolen from a nearby site, to rip the ATM from Gregory’s Filling Station on the Camlough Road, partially demolishing the building and causing extensive damage to the forecourt gantry.  The thieves then loaded the ATM onto a trailer before abandoning the digger in the middle of the road and setting fire to it.

The entire raid was captured on CCTV, which showed the digger being driven into the forecourt while a number of men walked alongside, followed by a white van towing a trailer.

In the follow up PSNI investigation linked to the theft, a police officer was seriously injured when he was struck by a lorry and crushed against his patrol car while attempting to stop the truck on the Mullaghduff Road, near Cullyhanna shortly after 1.00pm.

The officer was given emergency first aid and then airlifted by helicopter to the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast where he received treatment for a fractured ankle, injuries to his back and a wound to his head before being discharged on Saturday.  The driver of the truck fled the scene and police say they are treating the incident as attempted murder.

It has since emerged the lorry in question was stolen a short time earlier in the Kiltybane area of Cullyhanna and was later found burnt out a few miles away across the border at Mullyash Mountain.  Gardaí recovered the vehicle for forensic examination.

Police have appealed for information on the lorry, described as a low loader with a white cab, red body and a yellow bumper. It was carrying a white or silver vehicle.  Although forming part of the ATM theft investigation, it is unclear if this incident is directly linked to the robbery itself.

In a statement, PSNI Superintendent Simon Walls said the incident is being treated as attempted murder revealing the officer was struck after leaving his vehicle to speak to the driver of “a suspicious lorry transporting a car”.  It is alleged the lorry was “driven at speed” directly towards him.

“From the accounts of those at the scene, this appears to have been a deliberate act and as such we will be treating this incident as the attempted murder of a police officer,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Gregory family remains defiant and have vowed it’s “business as usual” as they attempt to salvage their family livelihood.

Proprietors Simon and Daniel Gregory spoke of their devastation and said the destruction of the family-run business, which was established in 1968, is “gut-wrenching” and has left everyone in shock.  Damage caused to the building and the forecourt is expected to run to tens of thousands of pounds.

The owners said they received a call around 4.00am and arrived to find the Fire Service working to extinguish the blazing digger.  The resulting carnage forced the closure of the road for several hours, leading to traffic chaos for commuters during the busy morning rush hour.  Staff and pupils struggled to make their way to St. Paul’s High School, located directly opposite the scene of the robbery.  Police were eventually able to open one lane allowing traffic through.

Simon Gregory said it is the second time in six years their store has been targeted: “I’m lost for words for the damage that was done.  It’s gut-wrenching,” he said.

“This is a family-run business from 1968 – we’ve a lot of people with us and they’ve no work to come to this morning.  In the mouth of Christmas the staff all have families, but it’s not only that, we’re a very well used community outlet.  Everyone is in shock.” Mr Gregory extended his thanks to the local community who he said had rallied around the well-known family in the aftermath of the incident, offering assistance wherever they could.

There has been widespread reaction to Friday’s events with politicians from across the political divide condemning the incidents unreservedly.

Sinn Fein MLA Conor Murphy said the theft of the cash machine was “particularly loathsome”.

“This was a despicable attack on a locally owned business that provides jobs and a crucial service to the community.  In addition to the destruction caused to Gregory’s shop, the digger they used to carry out this attack was stolen from a local building site and then set on fire outside St Paul’s school, dealing a huge financial blow to yet another local business.  It takes an absolutely craven mentality to set a vehicle on fire outside a school,” he said.

“These thugs have no respect or regard for this area or its people.  Crimes like this are an assault on the entire community and as such the entire community must unite to face these parasites down.”

His party colleague, Megan Fearon MLA said those responsible “have nothing to offer our community” and she wished the police officer, injured in the Cullyhanna incident, “a full and speedy recovery”.

UUP MLA Danny Kennedy said he “unreservedly” condemned the incident.

“This is the second similar attack on a well-respected, family-run business,” he said, and he appealed to anyone who can assist in the investigation to help catch those responsible, to contact police.

Commenting on the Cullyhanna hit-and-run, he added: “It’s a matter of great concern that an incident of this nature has taken place – and that a police officer has suffered serious injuries in the course of carrying out his duties.  It has all the hallmarks of a very serious criminal act, and I call on anyone with information to contact the police immediately.”

SDLP MLA Dominic Bradley condemned those behind “the reckless attack” that left the police officer in hospital.

“This was an incredibly reckless attack that could have left someone dead today. To drive a lorry directly at anyone is a wildly dangerous act and it’s important that those behind it are taken off the streets,” he said.

“My thoughts are with the police officer who was injured during this incident and I hope he makes a full recovery.  I would appeal to anyone with any information to bring it forward as soon as possible so that these reckless thugs can be brought before the courts.”

Mr Bradley’s party colleague, Councillor Kate Loughran praised the swift action by the Gardaí, which led to the arrest of a suspect and recovery of the stolen cash.

“The Gregorys are a very well respected and hard-working family, this community is extremely angry that this has happened and want to see those responsible brought before the courts and held accountable for their actions,” she said.

“They [An Garda Síochána and the PSNI] have to be commended for their swift actions and this is a good example of good progress being made when the police services on both sides of the border work together tackling the scourge of crime in our communities.”

Democratic Unionist Party MLA, William Irwin, also condemned the attack on the police officer: “If the person responsible for this incident is linked to the theft then it underlines the extremely dangerous nature of those involved in organised theft of cash machines,” he said.

During Saturday’s court hearing, Adam Grant was refused bail and is scheduled to appear before Carrickmacross District Court on Wednesday while police revealed the cross border search for the remainder of the gang is continuing.