An ATM outside a Co-operative Bank branch. (Photo: James W. Copeland via Shutterstock)

An invisible traceable gel that stays on skin and clothes for years will be sprayed on anyone who tries to break into a Co-operative cash machine as part of a hi-tech initiative to combat ATM crime.

The Co-op group has teamed up with forensic technology company SmartWater to roll out the deterrent. The gel was invented by former West Midlands police officer Phil Cleary and his chartered chemist brother Mike.

The technology is being installed at about 2,500 cash machines at Co-op food stores across the UK, after a pilot scheme in 2016 resulted in a more than 90% reduction in ATM crime.

The Co-op revealed industry figures that showed north-west England was the number one UK hotspot for ATM crime, accounting for almost 29% of attacks carried out between January and June this year. London was in second place at 19%.

SmartWater has adapted the technology to ensure that criminals who attack ATMs, and any cash they manage to steal, are marked with the water-based gel.

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