THIEVES carried out a “reverse ram raid” by breaking into a council depot then smashing a newly stolen truck through its gates to escape.
The culprits – believed to be a professional gang – targeted the depot in Ford’s Road, next to Saughton Park, in the early hours of yesterday morning and netted a £100,000 haul.
It is thought that the thieves were only using the council’s HGV truck to transport gardening equipment out of the compound to sell on.
The vehicle was found abandoned 12 hours later in the Newbridge area but the other stolen items remain missing.
Gangs known to have operated in the Lothians in recent years have carried out similar raids, using stolen vehicles to make off with heavy machinery.
Police chiefs said that anyone in the area at the time of the incident at 3.30am yesterday would have heard a series of collisions as the thieves fled, and appealed for witnesses to come forward.
After breaking into a storage unit on the compound, the gang climbed into the truck and crashed through its door before careering through the front gates to make their getaway.
The truck was found in the vicinity of Hillwood Farm just after 3pm.
A former CID officer with Lothian and Borders Police said: “It’s not usual for gangs to gain entry somewhere and then use a stolen vehicle to get away. You want to be able to enter the compound quietly, especially if there’s security guards or houses nearby.
“During a ram raid, the thieves smash a car through the front of a premises then try and load up as much as they can in a few minutes. You can’t exactly do that when you’re moving heavy equipment so this was kind of like a reverse ram raid – get in, load the stuff then you have the means to get out again.
“They might have intended to keep the truck but they are easier to trace. I would be surprised if they weren’t professionals.”
Inspector Irene Ralston, from Police Scotland, said: “This incident is likely to have caused quite a disturbance and so we are keen to hear from local residents and members of the public who were in the area in the early hours of Friday morning and remember seeing or hearing anything suspicious.
“Officers are conducting various lines of inquiry within the community to identify those responsible.”
Councillor Jim Orr, the city’s vice-convener for environment, said: “We’re working closely with the police to establish the identities of those responsible for the theft of equipment from the depot. The area is covered by CCTV and the buildings are alarmed as we take the security of our equipment very seriously.”
In recent years, organised gangs from England targeted the Lothians in a crime wave which saw hundreds of thousands of pounds’ worth of heavy equipment stolen.
Teams of criminals removed tonnes of machinery from building sites and industrial estates, often in West Lothian, in night-time swoops.