1. ITV Report

Crime gang ‘made recon trips to ATMs’ ahead of raids

The three men are accused of offences including those linked to the attempted raid of an ATM on the Gilnahirk Road in east Belfast. Credit: Presseye

An organised crime gang carried out reconnaissance trips to cash machines raided across Belfast and Co Down, a court has heard.

Police claimed one of three men accused of targeting ATM bunkers scouted them out with a bank card, before angle grinders were deployed to get at money stored inside.

Details of the alleged methods were disclosed on Monday, as 41-year-old Brian McCullough, 37-year-old James Hamilton, and 33-year-old Wayne Wilson were all remanded in custody.

They appeared before Belfast Magistrates’ Court accused of burglary with intent to steal at a filling station on Gilnahirk Road in the east of the city last Friday.

The trio are also charged with carrying out a similar burglary on a bunker in the Hartford Link area of Newtownards, Co Down on 30 March.

McCullough, from Ridgeway Street in Belfast, faces a further three counts of burglary with intent to steal at commercial premises.

Those allegations relate to incidents on the Ravenhill Road on 18 January, the Comber Road in Dundonald on 27 January, and the Woodstock Road on 23 February.

McCullough was remanded in custody after his solicitor confirmed bail was not being sought.

Police opposed bail applications mounted by Hamilton, from Church Lane in Donaghadee in Co Down, and Wilson, from Downshire Park Central in Belfast.

An investigating detective claimed they may have access to thousands of pounds yet to be recovered from the heists, and could use the money to flee.

She told the court an organised crime gang was behind the burglaries, which involved targeting exterior bunkers used to replenish the cash machines.

The raids were different to other incidents where machines have been completely ripped out.

According to the detective, other members of the gang are still at large.

She claimed that power tools and equipment were brought into break into the cash holds following reconnaissance trips.

During last Friday's burglary, police had observed suspects discussing how to enter the bunker for more than an hour, the court heard.

Two of them were said to have carried heavy tools to the ATM, using a crowbar to gain access, while a third kept look-out.

When police moved in, the men scattered across fields in a bid to escape, District Judge Fiona Bagnall was told.

The detective revealed that a PSNI helicopter was deployed to guide officers in the arrest operation.

She also claimed that DNA evidence on grip bags from an earlier incident may link the defendants.

Cross-examined by a defence solicitor for Hamilton and Wilson, the detective declined to confirm openly if surveillance had been carried out.

The solicitor told the court Hamilton provided an account that he was out socialising at the time of last Friday’s alleged raid.

Disputing the police case against his clients, the lawyer argued: “The evidence is speculative.”

But refusing bail to Hamilton and Wilson, Judge Bagnall cited the risk of re-offending.

Both men will appear again with McCullough via video-link on 17 June.