Published: 17:43, 26 January 2020
| Updated: 18:10, 26 January 2020
A village is fed up after another ram-raid became the third incident in a year where criminals have smashed their way into a business, causing serious damage.
Thieves stole a cash machine from the Esso garage in Cranbrook Road, Staplehurst, in the early hours of yesterday morning, using a digger and causing substantial damage.
The shop remains closed today.
In January, a 4x4 was used to steal a safe from inside a post office, and less than two months later would-be thieves drove through the front of a SPAR store.
The incidents, including yesterday's, all happened within half a mile of each other.
Cllr Louise Brice, who represents Staplehurst at Maidstone council said: "It's really disappointing the criminals who choose to do this are repeatedly targetting a village.
"I don't think it's fair to blame the police. The criminals choose to do it in the middle of the night. Even if you had a police station opposite it would be difficult to catch them.
"I believe it's an organised crime gang. You can almost set your watch by how often they do it. We have been waiting for them to come back. People are so fed up with it.
"We haven't had anybody hurt yet. My biggest concern is, how long does it go on for before somebody gets caught up in it?"
Cllr Brice said cash machines were chief among the hauls targeted as part of a spate of rural crimes, but added that nothing is safe.
She added: "We have numerous break-ins. The moment we get new sport equipment or a lawnmower for the community it is gone."
Cllr John Perry, a fellow Staplehurst councillor, said: "It's worrying because it has put a business out of action. Rural crime does seem to be increasing."
He said that after NatWest was ram-raided in Staplehurst, in 2016, the bank never reopened, and asked what police were doing to prevent similar incidents occurring.
"It is the old story, you never see any police here. We have got an extremely good PCSO but he doesn't have the same powers as police officers.
"When I first moved here 12 years ago we used to have a police officer who was dedicated to the area. I know it's easy to blame the police and it's easy for me to say. It isn't straightforward."
Across Kent, there were 14 ram-raids last year.
Detectives from the Kent and Essex serious crime directorate are searching for the culprits of yesterday's attack on the petrol station.
Anyone who with information should call the appeal line on 01622 604100 quoting reference 46/15147/20.
They can also ring the independent charity Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555111 or complete the online form at www.crimestoppers-uk.org