DETECTIVES investigating a series of cashpoint raids across the North last night said lives are being put at risk.

A specialist organised crime unit is now looking into the offences, which have all taken place since July 2017.

In that time there have been four raids in North Yorkshire and one in Darlington, as well as five in South Yorkshire, 11 in West Yorkshire and five in Humberside.

Not all of the incidents are being directly linked with each other – but there is concern that the growing trend could result in a fatality.

Forces from across the region are understood to be working together to try to identify the gangs targeting the cashpoint machines by igniting gas being pumped into a unit or using plant machinery to rip them from buildings.

Detective Chief Inspector, Stuart Spencer, of the Yorkshire and Humber Regional Organised Crime Unit, said the raiders are putting lives at risk by their actions

“Across the Yorkshire and Humber region, we have witnessed an emerging trend of ATM machines thefts from commercial premises where significant amounts of cash have been stolen," he said.

“In some instances, flammable gas is ignited to ‘blow out’ the housing of the ATM, causing significant structural damage. Clearly this has a potential to be life-threatening to anyone in the near vicinity.

“Another method used is where ATMs are ripped out from their housing using stolen plant machinery, before they are taken away in a stolen commercial vehicle and emptied elsewhere."

In Darlington, a criminal gang escaped with an unknown quantity of cash after targeting a free-standing cashpoint outside the Matalan shop on Neasham Road.

Debris from the Co-op machine, including nearby bollards to prevent ram-raids, were spread over a 50ft area of the car park around the store.

Darlington Police said they believed the blast was caused by gas which was deliberately ignited, while reassuring residents it was a targeted and isolated incident.

While officers continued their investigation, a security company warned of a growing number of incidents where an explosive substance, such as Butane or Acetylene, is used to blow the cash machine open.

A Durham Constabulary spokeswoman said: “Investigations into the explosion at a cash machine in Darlington are ongoing and various lines of enquiry are being pursued.

“It is not yet known whether the incident is linked to similar offences that have taken place across the country."

She appealed for anyone with any information on the incident, which took place at 1.20am on October 26, to call police on 101, quoting incident number 20 of October 26.

* In January last year, a gang were arrested when they failed in their attempt to commit burglary when they targeted a Co-operative supermarket in Corbridge, Northumberland.

During the attempted cashpoint raid approximately £8,500 in damage was caused, including £5,000 damage to the ATM machine.

The gang, which included four men connected to the Bishop Auckland, were jailed after they pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiracy to commit burglary Newcastle Crown Court.