This is a stick-up: Spaniards take revenge on banks for credit crunch

With Spain's economy in freefall and loans squeezed, desperadoes are resorting to robbing banks to solve their personal credit crunch.

Bank robberies have risen by 20 per cent in two years, Spain's banking association says; and those who adopt the tactic of the stick-up to pay their debts are novices rather than hardened criminals.

"In recent months, it has become apparent that Spain is suffering from an increase in bank robberies," Francisco Perez Abellan, the head of criminology at Camilo Jose Cela University in Madrid, told The New York Times.

"We are seeing people committing offences through necessity, first-time offenders who can no longer continue to maintain their lifestyle and so turn to crime," he said.

Instances where counter clerks are tied up at gunpoint while masked raiders empty the safe have become so common that Spain's government, prodded by the bank employees' trade union, has classified bank robbery as an occupational hazard.

Jose Manuel Murcia, the head of workplace health and safety in the financial sector for the Workers' Commissions union federation, said: "There's unemployment, there's hunger and there's money in the banks, and the three factors combine.

"Banks are denying credit, so companies are having problems... People can't pay their mortgages. So it's... logical to rob a bank."

Typical among novice robbers is the building contractor identified as Ausencio CG, who allegedly stole €80,000 (£69,000) from four banks before he was caught attempting his fifth hold-up near Barcelona in February. He told police he had used the money to pay his workers and fund his daughter's studies in London.

Other new bandits were low-skilled workers from eastern Europe or Latin America, drawn to Spain during the building boom, who were now unemployed, Mr Perez Abellan said.

"They bring new skills that increase the level of violence and the speed of the bank robbery."

Four South American painters kidnapped a bank manager in Barcelona in March, held him overnight and forced him to hand over €150,000 from the vault.

They were caught last month in their painters' overalls, guns and bullets in their car, as they tried a final heist before returning home.

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