AN armed gang committed a spree of robberies at filling stations across Laois-Offaly last week, and in one terrifying incident threatened a station manager and his son who came upon the robbers as they plundered the store.
The quartet of criminals began their litany of break-ins in Abbeyleix in the early hours of Friday, May 20. Garda Superintendent Philip Lyons told the Offaly Express that the men, who wore balaclavas and brandished iron bars as weapons during the spree, were driving a Golf GTi with false number plates and it is believed that they represent a criminal element from outside the region. After Abbeyleix, the gang continued with their tour of larceny and proceeded to a filling station in Rosenallis, where they made off with a small amount of cash, and Killeigh, where two more filling stations were hit and money and cigarettes stolen.
However, it was at the filling station in Ballybrittas where the men were disturbed during their break-in by the store’s security alarm. Responding to the alarm, the owner of the filling station, Dick Donoher and his son, Dan discovered the armed men in their store at around 3.30am.
“The alarm went off, we only live a mile down the road and we were there within five minutes,” Mr Donoher explained. “We saw one raider hiding behind a tree outside the shop. He ran across and we barely missed him, just clipped him. There was a Golf car parked outside and we turned our car to block it in, but then three lads came out of the shop with iron bars. They told us ‘back up, back up’ and we had to reverse. They sped away toward Portlaoise and we gave chase, but we lost them on the motorway.”
Mr Donoher said that he discovered a bar on the floor of the shop which the men had used to attempt to open the store’s safe, but as they were disturbed nothing was ultimately taken. He confirmed that the men spoke with Dublin accents and the incident left both he and his son badly shaken.
“It was very traumatising,” he said. “After I went back to bed I couldn’t sleep.”
The last time the Ballybrittas filling station was targeted by thieves was way back in 1999, when Mr Donoher and his other son, David responded to the alarm to discover the doors of the shop broken into, although the perpetrators had already fled the scene. In a bizarre coincidence, an eye-witness confirmed that the vehicle used on that occasion was also a Golf GTi.
Following last Friday’s spree, Superintendent Lyons confirmed that armed Garda checkpoints were put in operation over the weekend and no further break-ins occurred. The Superintendent said that Gardaí are currently studying CCTV footage from the filling stations and the investigation is ongoing. Anyone with any information should contact Portlaoise Garda Station on 05786 21666, or Abbeyleix Garda Station on 05787 31202.