By Paul Higgins
An Armagh man appeared in court today (fri) accused of stealing a cash filled ATM in what a judge said was “clearly a sophisticated operation.”
Newry Magistrates Court heard that “this operation took less than 60 seconds” for the stolen digger to drive across the forecourt, demolish the purpose built ATM building, scoop up the machine, load it onto a trailer and drive away, leaving a trial of damage that will cost around £100,000 to fix.
“It literally happened in 60 seconds,” said Det. Const. Verner, “giving police an indication that this has the trappings of a professional grouping who knew what they were at.”
Appearing at court by videolink from police custody, 22-year-old Sean Paul Donnelly was charged with three counts of theft relating to the ATM, the excavator used to rip it from the wall and the trailer used to drive it away from Fruitfields Petrol Station, arson of the stolen digger, causing criminal damage to the filling station on 20 December.
He was also charged with possessing a firearm under suspicious circumstances and without a certificate on 21 December following searches at his home on Navan Street in the city.
Giving evidence during a contested bail application, DC Verner said police believed Donnelly “is a committed member of an organised crime gang and revealed it’s the second time the atm at Fruitfields Petrol Station, Portadown Road in Armagh has been targeted.
In this case, it was in the early hours of tuesday, 20 December when police were alerted to an alarm going off at around 4.45am, said the officer.
Police at the scene spotted two men, one of whom got out of the white Ford Transit van and set fire to the digger, stolen from just across the road, before the van then drives off.
Thanks to a tracking device on the ATM, the detective said officers from the Armed Response Unit were able to trace it a field on the Moy Road where they disturbed two males who were “about to crack it open with an angle grinder.”
The ATM, still filled with cash, was recovered but the two men ran off
Turning to the investigation and what police believe links Donnelly to the incident, DC Verner said the field where the ATM was found was part of a farm owned by the defendant’s grandparents while a black BMW X5 found parked less than half a mile away had a receipt for a gas top up, purchased the day before the theft.
When Donnelly’s home was searched, cops uncovered a key to the Ford van used to tow the trailer with the stolen ATM onboard.
It was during those searches that officers found a gas powered BB gun hidden behind the microwave and also a “T800 bug tracker sweeping device” which police believe was intended to use scan ATMs for tracking devices.
The property itself, said the officer, “has the capacity to be barricaded” with a 4” steel bar across the door and cops also seized an extendable baton so police have “serious concerns about the background of this young man.”
Arrested and interviewed, Donnelly claimed he had sold the black BMW X5 the week before khans but couldn’t provide details as to who allegedly bought the vehicle.
DC Verner said police feared that if relaxed, Donnelly could interfere with the ongoing investigation given that he had failed to surrender his mobile phone and “there is a second male who has not been arrested.”
There was also a risk of further offences being committed as “the sheer cost of the damage and the professionalism [in the operation] show that these are the actions of an orchestrated gang.”
Defence solicitor John McAtamney argued with no direct evidence or forensics to link Donnelly to the incident, taking the case at its height “he is linked to vehicles that were potentially used by others.”
He submitted that a with a package of bail conditions, Donnelly would be a suitable candidate for bail but District Judge Eamon King disagreed.
“There’s no doubt that this was a well organised, planned and executed operation,” said the judge adding that he was satisfied the police were able to establish a Prima Facie case against Donnelly.
He said he was refusing bail due to the risk of further offences and interference with the investigation so remanding Donnelly into custody, he adjourned the case to 17 January.