€300k seized as ATM gang busted as their digger about to rip cash machine off wall
Three members of the same family who are part of a prolific cross-border ATM gang have been busted following a major garda operation.
A man and his two nephews were last night being quizzed under anti-gangland legislation while a manhunt was ongoing for a fourth suspect.
Heavily armed members of the Emergency Response Unit (ERU) swooped on the gang at 2.30am yesterday as it was targeting a cash machine with a digger in Virginia, Co Cavan.
One suspect, a 28-year-old man from a town on the Armagh/Monaghan border, was detained at the scene.
A planned raid on a house in Moynalty, Co Meath, led to the 61-year-old uncle of this suspect being arrested.
During a search of the house, more than €300,000 in cash was recovered which is believed to be linked to previous ATM thefts.
Then, shortly after 1pm, as these dramatic images show, armed gardai drew their firearms as they swooped on a third suspect who was found hiding in a hotel toilet close to the scene of the botched cash machine raid.
This 25-year-old and his older brother and uncle were last night being held in separate garda stations.
All three live in the same house in a town on the Armagh/Monaghan border, while the 28-year-old is considered an "expert digger driver" known to gardai and the PSNI.
A fourth gang associate remains at large, and gardai believe the mob got "spooked" ahead of the botched raid after noticing garda activity in the rural town.
The gang is suspected of carrying out up to half a dozen cross-border ATM raids this year in a spree investigated by specialist gardai and PSNI officers.
The raiders also have links to a gang suspected of being involved in the murder of Det Gda Adrian Donohoe in Bellurgan, Co Louth, in 2013.
Gardai in local and national units took part in yesterday's operation which had been ongoing for a number of weeks, with gardai carrying out covert surveillance on the gang since earlier this year.
"Gardai have been tracking this gang for months and it has been a game of cat and mouse," a senior source told the Herald last night.
"There were times when the gang appeared to know they were under surveillance and you had a situation where the criminals were watching the gardai watching them.
"However, gardai kept on them which resulted in this successful operation."
There have been more than a dozen ATM raids on both sides of the border since the start of the year.
Last night, gardai said they had recovered a number of vehicles which would be forensically examined.
The swoop occurred just as the digger was being prepared to rip the ATM from the wall of a building.
Wreckage from a dark- coloured 4x4-type vehicle was strewn across the footpath on the opposite side of the road to the cash machine.
A showground not far from the ATM was being examined by gardai.
One theory is that it may have been used by the gang to store a vehicle or vehicles used in the attempted raid.
The men in custody last night are linked to a crime gang that is the chief suspect in €480,000 raids in Kells which happened in the early hours of Good Friday morning last.
Two ATMs were ripped from separate banks on the town's John Street before the raiders fled in separate vehicles.
The digger and tractor used in the raids were stolen earlier that night in separate counties.
The digger was taken from a field in Co Meath, while the JCB and tractor and trailer, used to transport the excavator to the scene, were stolen in the Louth area.
The same gang is the chief suspect for a €70,000 cash machine raid in Castleblayney, Co Monaghan, at around 3am on April 2.
When gardai arrived at the AIB's ATM in the town's Main Street it had been ripped from the building and the digger's engine was still running.
An incident room has been set up in Bailieborough Garda Station. Speaking yesterday, Bailieborough Superintendent Gordon Englishby said: "This remains a live investigation."
Garda are asking any motorists who may have dash cam footage who were traveling on the Virginia to Bailieborough Road between 1 and 3am yesterday to contact them on (042) 9654970.