Traders in Northern Ireland have called on builders to securely lock up their heavy machinery after a digger was yet again used to steal an ATM machine in the North.

It is the 16th such incident in five months, according to a local businesses association.

The Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association also hit out at the police response to the robberies. Chief executive Glyn Roberts said: "As far as we are aware there has not been a single arrest by the PSNI in connection with these incidents. That is quite clearly unacceptable.

"We are very disappointed in the police response. There is now on average one such theft a week and the PSNI really need to be getting on top of the situation which is rapidly spiralling out of control. In one case, the police didn't even come out to the scene for over 12 hours."

In the latest incident, thieves used a digger to take a cash machine from the front wall of a supermarket in Kells, Co Antrim. The ATM was ripped out of SuperValu on Main Street at 3am on Friday, causing substantial damage to the premises. The thieves set the digger on fire before escaping.

Roberts said: "Builders know the risks of not securing diggers at night. Time and time again such machinery is used in these robberies. We urgently need a taskforce where the construction industry, police, the banks and retailers get together to work out a strategy."

Roberts claimed if such robberies continued, banks could remove cash machines from rural areas. "Many people in such areas rely on ATMs to withdraw benefits and pensions. We have seen the closure of banks and post offices in rural parts of Northern Ireland so these machines are vital to many people, particular older people who don't have a car to drive elsewhere.

The areas targeted by thieves most regularly are Tyrone and Fermanagh. Often, those responsible escape across the border.

In July, the owner of a supermarket in Newtownbutler, Co Fermanagh, was critical of police for taking over 12 hours to arrive after they were phoned to say an ATM was being stolen from the premises. Declan McCabe described the response as "absolutely diabolical".

Police have said the dissident republican threat means the safety of officers is paramount.

Criminals who had targeted security vans transporting cash have now turned to ATMs as an easier option. The robberies typically occur in the early hours of the morning.