Independent retailers in Northern Ireland fear banks could take away their ATMs after the latest in a spate of 19 outrageous smash-and-grab raids.

Last week, a mechanical digger was used to steal an ATM from the exterior wall of a Hendersons-owned Spar in Templepatrick.

The thieves, who partly demolished one of the store walls, are believed to have got away with thousands of pounds in cash.

Just days later, on Monday, a Costcutter in Augher was broken into by thieves who unsuccessfully tried to wrench a freestanding ATM from the store, causing thousands of pounds of damage.

The Costcutter ATM was the 19th to have been hit since February, with the majority of attacks targeting independent retailers.

Glyn Roberts, chief executive of the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association, called on the police to step up their attempts to catch the thieves. "These are not just robberies against local small businesses they are robberies against the whole community. The majority have taken place in rural areas where the ATMs are a lifeline," he said. "If these attacks continue, insurance premiums are likely to soar. Or it will come to the point where banks will not replace the machines."

Roberts said he was relieved that the damage had not been worse at the Spar. The thieves had intended to burn down the store to destroy any evidence but a petrol bomb failed to ignite. The store was open for business again the following morning and was able to offer its customers cashback on transactions to make up for the loss of the ATM.