CUMBRIA Police are working with other forces to catch a gang targeting cashpoint machines at rural petrol stations after it struck in South Lakeland.

The organised criminals, who use vehicles to rip out the machines, made off with £16,000 after striking at Mossdales at Hale, near Milnthorpe, in the early hours of Monday morning.

The burglary occurred at about 1.12am when the raiders used a tractor, stolen from Burton-in-Kendal, to tear the ATM (Automatic Telling Machine) from the wall. It was then bundled into one of two vehicles before the raiders sped off towards Lancaster.

Police have confirmed they believe the burglary was linked to a series of similar raids across the north of England, including an attack on an Ingleton petrol station cashpoint in January when a gang stole £26,000.

Chief Inspector Kevin McGilloway, from Kendal police station, said: "We believe that the burglary at the filling station was one of a series of related offences across the north of England by a team of criminals based in the North East."

He said the incidents across North Yorkshire, Durham and Lancashire all involved gangs who had used a vehicle to lift the ATMs out of the wall.

He added: "Cumbria police are liasing with colleagues in other forces across the northern region to pool intelligence and work together to identify who the individuals are."

In a separate raid on a petrol station at Hills garage in Coniston, also in the early hours of Monday morning, burglars used cutting equipment to steal £3,640 from a cashpoint. Police said they believed the incident, which took place at 12.45am, was unrelated but they would like to trace the owner of a red Alpha Romeo and several men captured on CCTV who visited Hills Garage on February 12 and 13 to rule them out of their inquiries.

Police are appealing for witnesses to either raid, especially those who may have seen a dark car or a stolen white Mercedes pick up, registration M712 UNW, used in the Hale raid. The Mercedes was reported as stolen from Fell View Industrial Estate on Shap Road, Kendal.

Police are also urging farmers and contractors to ensure tractors and diggers are kept secure.

Anyone with information on either crime should call Crimestoppers on 0800-555-111 or Kendal CID on 01539-722611.