Updated: Wednesday, 27th August 2014 @ 9:06am

'Mole-in-the-wall gang' strike again: Thieves dig FOURTH tunnel underground to steal from Salford ATM

'Mole-in-the-wall gang' strike again: Thieves dig FOURTH tunnel underground to steal from Salford ATM

| By Jon Harris

A team of thieves dubbed the 'mole-in-the-wall gang' is feared to have struck again after digging a FOURTH tunnel to steal a Manchester cashpoint machine.

In a scene worthy of Hollywood movie 'The Great Escape', the thieves are thought to have spent several months digging a 50 feet tunnel under wasteland to get to the cash at a Tesco store.

The thieves used shovels and pick axes to burrow their way under the supermarket at Eccles, Salford.

It is thought they used the existing foundations and steel beams erected under the building as tunnel supports to weave a path to their target.

Eventually during one last dead-of-night 'push' they finally broke through and stole cash boxes containing what police described as a 'substantial' sum of money. The thieves then disappeared back through the tunnel and escaped with the cash.

The theft was discovered when staff at the store opened up for business at 6am on Friday March 14.

Detective Sergeant Mark Toker from Greater Manchester Police said: "These people had obviously spent a long time plotting this crime and I doubt they would have been able to keep their plans secret for all that time, without telling others about their elaborate scheme.”

DASTARDLY DIG: Thieves burrorwed 50ft to create underground tunnel

Amazingly it is the fourth time in seven years the same 'tunnel' method has been used to steal cash machines across the Greater Manchester area.

In August 2007 thieves dug under a Blockbusters shop at Fallowfield shopping precinct in Manchester in a bid to steal an ATM only to be foiled when contractors stumbled on it when their JCB went through the roof of the tunnel whilst laying electric cables.

As well as scaffolding and wooden poles to shore up the tunnel, and electric lighting to dig by, police found tools, shovels, a wheelbarrow and bags of soil and what appeared to be a ventilation system. It was later filled in with concrete to prevent re-use.

But in January 2012 the same ATM containing £6,000 was stolen after thieves dug a 100-foot tunnel. It emerged the gang had used shovels, a wheelbarrow and then scaffolding to shore the tunnel up before getting inside the building.

Security guards discovered that the cash machine was empty and when police examined the building and found the tunnel dug from a railway embankment at the rear, under a car park and beneath the foundations of the shop.

ELABORATE: It is thought the tunnel may have taken up to six months to dig

The elaborate passageway was around 100ft in length and around 4ft tall and could have taken up to six months to dig. It had also been fitted with lighting and roof supports.

Just a month later in February 2012 a gang dug down from behind a railway station platform in an attempt to snatch an ATM from a corner shop in Manchester's Burnage district.

They were foiled after vibrations of their late night digging triggered a security alarm at the East and West Convenience store near Burnage train station.

Those three tunnels were jokingly nicknamed Tom, Dick and Harry after the burrows dug in the 1963 war movie starring Steve McQueen. It is not believed any arrests were made over the raids.

Detective Sergeant Toker said of the Eccles raid: ''The offenders must have spent long periods of time in the area over the last few months, which people may have noticed. You may have seen people acting suspiciously on Friday night, possible covered in soil.

''I would ask anyone with any information about the robbery to call us as soon as possible.''

One customer who uses the Eccles ATM said: ''It's incredible to think what lengths people will go to steal cash.

''No one had an inkling of what was going on and these people must have spent months tunnelling under the cover of darkness.

''We can only assume they dumped all the soil from the tunnel into the canal - otherwise there would be a giant mound of earth next door to the shop.

''You have to wonder whether the culprits have been repeatedly watching the Great Escape for tips on tunnelling.''

Story via Cavendish Press.