A CASH machine has been blown up in Darlington.

Thieves targeted a free standing cash machine near the Heron Foods store in the Cockerton Green area of the town in the early hours of Wednesday morning.

Following the explosion one witness described seeing three men speed off in a car before police arrived "in force" minutes later.

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An officer is guarding a police cordon around the scene of the incident but all roads are open.

In October last year thieves used a similar method to break into a cash machine on Neasham Road.

Police are now investigating whether the two incidents are linked.

A statement released by Durham Constabulary this morning said it is believed the suspects filled the free-standing machine with gas, which has then been deliberately ignited, before making off with an unknown quantity of cash.

Detective Inspector Sharon Alderson said: “Nobody was injured during the incident. However, it has caused significant damage to the cash machine.

“A cordon remained in place this morning while we conducted our enquiries.”

She added: “In October last year, a cash machine on Neasham Road was targeted in a similar way.

“Enquiries are ongoing to determine if the two incidents are linked.

“We would like to appeal to anyone who may have seen or heard anything in the Cockerton area of Darlington in the early hours of this morning to come forward.”

It is understood that a car was seen leaving the scene at the time of the incident.

Anyone with any information should call Durham Constabulary on 101, quoting incident number 24 of February 14.

Alternatively, information can be passed on to Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

One woman, who lives on Stooperdale Avenue, said: “I heard a loud bang at 1.38am ­- know it was that time as it woke me up and looked at my clock. I can’t believe that it was someone blowing up the cash point but at least no one was injured.”

Scene of crime officers are on site collecting evidence, including £10 and £5 notes that were trapped underneath the debris on the floor outside Heron Foods.

The free-standing cashpoint was severely damaged by the blast.

A Durham Police spokeswoman added tonight: “Investigations into the explosion are ongoing and various lines of inquiry are being pursued.”