HSBC bank in High Street, Alton, has become the latest victim of the area’s ram-raid epidemic after thieves ripped an ATM from the wall of the branch in the early hours of Friday morning.

A large yellow JCB telehandler digger was abandoned at the scene having apparently been used to punch a hole in the side of the High Street branch at around 4am on November 23, leaving masonry and other debris strewn across Cross and Pillory Lane.

The Herald understands the JCB was stolen from Redrow Homes’ Hop Field Place development on the Basingstoke Road, driven down Lenten Street and across Market Square after the thieves removed a bollard to gain access to Cross and Pillory Lane.

Two Hampshire Police cars are at the scene and have closed off Cross and Pillory Lane to traffic and pedestrians.

The HSBC cash machine is one of the most regularly used in Alton, being the closest ATM to the town’s Tuesday and monthly markets.

Although not yet officially linked by the police, the incident is the latest in a series of attempted cash-machine thefts in Hampshire and neighbouring Surrey. The Herald believes it at least the 38th ATM theft to hit the area since February 2017.

It also comes just days after Halifax bank confirmed it would be closing its branch in West Street, Farnham permanently after another stolen JCB was used to rip the cash machine from the Grade II listed building in August.

Two motorbikes were used in a ’fast and calculated’ raid on Andre Noir jewellers in Lion and Lamb Yard, Farnham in October.

And in another recent incident, in July the West Meon Hut BP petrol station on the busy A32/A272 junction, south of Alton, was left seriously damaged by thieves who failed in an attempt to rip out a cashpoint with a digger.

Hampshire Police said in a statement: "We are investigating after a burglary in which cash was stolen from an ATM machine at the HSBC branch in High Street, Alton.

"We were notified at 4.06am this morning (Friday, November 23) and officers attended.

"A JCB telehandler had been used to remove the ATM machine from the wall. Cash trays were then stolen.

"The telehandler was left in the road.

"Officers remain at the scene and an investigation is underway."

Chief Inspector Alex Reading added: “We understand people will be concerned about what happened and the impact that these types of burglary can have.

“We take all such reports seriously.

“Officers are following several lines of enquiry and we are working hard to identify those responsible.

“If you know anything about what happened, please contact us. Any information you provide could prove vital to our investigation.”

Anyone with information should call police on 101, quoting the crime reference number 44180438729.

Alternatively, people can call Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111, where information can be left anonymously.