A police hunt is on to catch thieves who raided a garage and used a stolen vehicle to smash into a shop in an audacious attempt to steal its cash machine.
The balaclava-clad gang targeted numerous premises in Wooler in a spate of overnight attacks on Monday, which has shocked the tight-knit community.
The culprits broke in to Mike Hope of Wooler Ltd twice during the evening – making off with around £50,000 worth of quad bikes and a silver Toyota Hilux.
The thieves’ first attack on the South Road-based garage occurred while the company’s director Jamie Hope, and his wife, were watching television just 40-feet away.
The gang-of-three crooks then used the Toyota pickup to crash into the nearby Farm to Freeze shop, at around 4.45am. However, their attempt to steal the cash machine failed and they led empty-handed.
Then, at 6.18am on Tuesday, police received a report of an incident at Wooler auction mart, where attempts were made to steal a safe, but again, the offenders fled empty-handed.
CCTV footage, shared with the Gazette by Mike Hope of Wooler, captures the thieves at the garage site.
Northumbria Police Neighbourhood Inspector, Liz Hall, has condemned the thefts and encouraged anyone with information to come forward.
She said: “This is not just petty theft – this is serious crime and the items targeted are of very high value.
“We believe these offences have been committed by a travelling gang, so we do not believe there is an immediate risk to people in Wooler.
“I would like to reassure the community we are conducting a thorough investigation to identify those responsible and bring them to justice.
“We are putting a number of preventative measures in place and would ask residents to be vigilant, and take simple to steps to ensure their properties are secured, keys are stored out of view and to call us if they see anything suspicious.
“If you have any information about the incidents in question, or saw anyone acting suspiciously in Wooler overnight on Monday to Tuesday, then call police on 101.”
Monday night’s break-in at Mike Hope of Wooler follows an incident at the site a few months ago, when thieves stole cash and cigarettes to the value of around £8,000.
Jamie Hope doesn’t believe that the two incidents are connected.
Reflecting on Monday’s incident, a statement left by Jamie on the company’s Facebook page read: ‘At approximately 10pm on Monday, three Honda ATVs (quad bikes) were stolen while myself and my wife were watching television less than 40 feet away.
‘The ATVs were pushed away through a gate that had been removed from its hinges using tools stolen from our spray shop.
‘The ATVs were then ridden through the river, past the Iron Bridge to make a get-away via the Chatton road.
‘At 3.30am, the thieves returned, after breaking into two other local workshops.
‘Upon their return, they looked through our workshop for the keys to my Toyota Hilux pickup.
‘My keys were not available, but the keys to a similar Hilux were stolen from our office.
‘The thieves then stole straps from our recovery truck which were later used to try to steal a cash machine from another local business.’
Following the theft, the company has managed to recover one of the quad bikes, which was left abandoned a mile east of Wooler. The other two ATVs are missing.
The company has also managed to find the pickup, which has minimal damage, having only suffered a small burn in the seat and a scratch on the tailgate. It has been recovered by the police and is undergoing forensic investigations.
Describing the incident at Farm to Freeze, owner Judith Redpath, said: “They used a stolen vehicle to reverse into the front door and smashed it all in. They had a rope around the cash machine and tried to pull it out. But the cash machine, which is emptied at night, is bolted to the floor and the rope snapped.”
If you have any information about these incidents, call police on 101 quoting log number 121 or 139 of 9/10/18 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555111.