Thieves Blowing Up Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) Across UK- Here’s How It Escalated

Thieves are blowing up cash machines in potentially deadly explosions that have been sweeping across the UK.

Police say the strength of some blasts has been comparable to “a bomb going off”, seeing millions of pounds stolen, buildings destroyed and local infrastructure decimated.

Almost 100 gas explosions targeting cash machines were recorded by police in England and Wales last year, including 23 carried out by a single gang that stole more than £1.5m in a three month spree across the Midlands.

Detective Chief Superintendent Mick Gallagher, head of the Metropolitan Police’s Organised Crime Command, said the blasts were being launched by several criminal gangs.

“The gas attacks are not particularly sophisticated, so the potential risk to life is absolutely huge,” he told The Independent.

“They commit these offences at a time when not many people are about, in the early hours of the morning when the explosions can be heard for miles around. It was a new phenomenon for us.”

So far this year no cash machine explosions have been reported in London after a prolific gang was jailed, though six have taken place nationally.

Police said culprits are using legally purchased gas, of a type employed by welders, which is pumped into cash machines and crudely detonated by hand.

Detective Superintendent Simon Moring said the “very dangerous crime type” has devastating consequences for rural communities that rely on ATMs.

“This is a really big bang akin to a bomb going off,” he added. “They take the ATM and side of the building out as well, in horrendous explosions that leave the building visibly and structurally damaged.”

Det Supt Moring said the phenomenon was part of a wider trend of ripping out cash machines, sometimes using stolen vehicles, JCBs and other machinery.

Criminal gangs are also regularly targeting cash in transit vans and “terrorising members of the public” with violent smash-and-grab raids.

Last year saw 212 cash-in-transit robberies across England and Wales, including 65 in London, while 16 ATMs have been stolen in the capital so far this year.

The Metropolitan Police’s Flying Squad, which celebrates its 100th anniversary on Thursday, is charged with investigating armed robberies, kidnapping and other serious crime.

Commanders said their investigations show that London organised crime groups are currently “diversifying” from high-risk raids into lucrative drug trafficking, fraud and cybercrime.

One of the current trends is violent smash-and-grab raids that see robbers armed with guns, knives, machetes and other weapons ram vehicles into high-end clothes, watch and jewellery shops.

“In the high-end ones the levels of violence are absolutely extreme,” Det Ch Supt Gallagher said.

“The more people that we manage to arrest and successfully prosecute the better, it is a phenomenon at the moment.”

Asked what was driving the trend, the senior officer told The Independent austerity could be playing a role.

“London is becoming wealthier and wealthier, and there is a divide between rich and poor,” he continued. “At the very high end it’s the super-rich, and at the low end it’s homelessness and destitution.”

Det Ch Supt Gallagher said there was also a “societal question” over the desire for designer products people are unable to afford, adding: “As long as there is a demand for these kind of goods, there will be people willing to take high risks in order to get them.”

He said that there was a “graduation” from raids on shops to street robberies using scooters, which have sparked alarm following a dramatic spike that saw high-profile victims including home secretary Sajid Javid and comedian Michael McIntyre.

But the commander insisted that violent crime was “stabilising” overall, despite 99 murders so far this year in London and a nationwide rise in murder, robberies and stabbings.

“The policing response is starting to take hold now, and we’re having significant arrests and convictions which themselves are a deterrent,” he added.

“The biggest challenge now is technology, communications networks and encryption… it may be that going forward we have to start re-establishing some of the older ways we used to work.”

He spoke as the Flying Squad geared up for centenary celebrations, which will mark some of its most high-profile cases, including the Hatton Garden robbery, thwarted Millennium Dome raid, Brink’s-Mat security depot robbery, and the 1960s Great Train Robbery.

Barry Phillips, head of the Flying Squad Officers’ Association, said the unit was started in 1918 partly as a response to an early form of smash-and-grab raids, which used emerging motor vehicles. “Times have changed because now it’s the moped riders,” he added.

Initially called the Experimental Mobile Patrol, the first detectives were hidden inside covered horse-drawn wagons, ready to jump out if they spotted a suspected offender.

It remains the only dedicated mainland detective unit that investigates armed robberies from start to finish, with detectives trained in firearms and covert surveillance roles.

The Flying Squad has developed its own armed intervention tactics, known as “pavement ambushes”, which have resulted in the arrests of some of London’s most notorious criminals.

But it has been marred by scandals in the past when a small number of officers had been receiving bribes to tip-off criminals about raids, and were involved in drug dealing and other corruption.

Mr Phillips, who used to head the unit, said there was “always bad apples but it was dealt with head-on”.

Credit: The Independent (UK)

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