Police are investigating the theft of a cash machine from a shop in Ahoghill, Co Antrim.

A digger was used to rip the ATM from the wall of the building on Brook Street overnight, causing “considerable damage”.

The vehicle, thought to have been stolen from a site nearby, was found on fire outside the shop.

Mr Millar initially thought it was an April Fool's prank. Credit: UTV

The shop owner told UTV he’s devastated by what happened.

Walter Millar said: “Got a phone call about half past three this morning, which I initially thought was an April Fool's joke, telling me the ATM was pulled out of the shop.

“I quickly realised by the tone of her voice it was more serious than that.

“Police had swarmed the place, the digger was burning in the middle of the road - there’s quite extensive damage to the back of the shop.”

Police appealed for information. Credit: Pacemaker

It comes amid a spate of attacks on cash machines at shops across Northern Ireland in recent months.

There have been seven incidents so far this year - including the removal of two ATM machines during one attack in Antrim. A further two took place last year, since the beginning of the spate in October.

Police have set up a team of detectives to investigate.

They are encouraging anyone who uses heavy plant machinery such as diggers to ensure the machines are kept locked and secured, and asked people living close to local filling stations or shops with ATMs to contact police if they see suspicious activity.

There have been seven recent ATM thefts. Credit: UTV

Anyone with information on the Ahoghill theft is asked to come forward.

Detective Inspector Richard Thornton said: "I want to appeal to anyone who was in the area around the time of the incident and saw what happened, including anyone who saw a silver-coloured 'people carrier' type vehicle to call us.

“I also want to appeal to anyone who saw any suspicious activity in the general Ahoghill area, including in the days prior to the theft, to call detectives.”

Retail NI said the thefts are attacking "the backbone" of the rural economy.

Chief Executive Glyn Roberts said: “If the criminal gangs behind these ATM robberies are not stopped there is a real danger many rural communities will lose local access to cash.

"They are attacking local family-owned small businesses which are the backbone of the rural economy, providing an invaluable service to the local community.

“The gangs behind these attacks need to be caught and put in jail for a very long time.”