Ram-raiders strike at three stores
By Becky HallewellA TEENAGER has told of his fear as he watched crowbar-wielding ram-raiders smash through the front of a village store.Three masked raiders used a Mitsubishi jeep to destroy the front of the Co-op store in Dedham at 1am yesterday - the first of three attacks across north Essex and south Suffolk in the space of two hours.
By Becky Hallewell
A TEENAGER has told of his fear as he watched crowbar-wielding ram-raiders smash through the front of a village store.
Three masked raiders used a Mitsubishi jeep to destroy the front of the Co-op store in Dedham at 1am yesterday - the first of three attacks across north Essex and south Suffolk in the space of two hours.
It is believed the same gang were responsible for further raids on the Q8 garage in Weeley at 2.30am and then at about 3am at the Co-op store in Claydon, near Ipswich.
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Police said there was a strong possibility the robberies - which all targeted cash machines and caused thousands of pounds of damage - were connected.
The raid in Dedham left villagers in terror as the gang made repeated unsuccessful attempts to haul away the cash machine and its contents, causing an estimated £10,000 damage.
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Nick Evans, 16, from Dedham, was camping in his garden with friends when they heard banging and screeching and went to investigate.
“We saw guys in balaclavas. We were kind of scared because they had crowbars,” he said.
“They were wearing big Puffa jackets, balaclavas and gloves and looked like they had crowbars or long metal sticks with hooks on each end. “We were frightened that if we'd made any noise, they might have come after us, so we backed away from the street.”
Charles Clover, 45, had been in bed asleep in Royal Square, near to the Co-op, when the raiders struck.
“It looked like something you expect to see in a rough urban neighbourhood or Northern Ireland, not Dedham. It's extraordinary in a place like Dedham,” he said.
“There was fantastic tyre-squealing and banging. They'd rammed the front of the shop and there was debris everywhere. The four-wheel drive was abandoned in the middle of the High Street.
“It was a pretty professional job. It makes us take a serious look at whether or not we're safe and whether we're policed adequately. It's very alarming - something has to be done.”
A spokeswoman for the Colchester and East Essex Co-operative Society said: “We opened for business at 1.05pm. We had been working through the night to ensure that we were able to open for business as usual as soon as possible.
“We would like to thank members of the local community for their support - they've been great.”
An Essex Police spokesman said: “They used a four-by-four to push the window in and industrial strapping to try to pull out the cash machine. The strapping broke, so they took an axe to it, causing considerable damage.”
David Percival was inside the Q8 store in Colchester Road, Weeley, when the balaclava-wearing robbers struck at 2.30am, ramming a stolen gold Ford Escort into the front of the shop.
“It was so fast, so incredibly fast. It was a shock when it all happened and so quickly. I saw a vehicle come round and didn't think anything at first,” he said.
“The cash machine was out within a minute and in the back of the second car. The men were highly professional, they looked menacing.”
Mr Percival tried to call the police as the raid was taking place, but was frightened off by one of the attackers.
Tony Lane, 56, manager of the garage, was woken just after 2.30am to learn of the raid, in which the cash machine containing almost £6,000 was stolen.
“They've done untold damage. The whole front of the shop has been smashed - it's amazing. They've rammed shelves right across the shops,” he said.
The balaclava-clad ram-raiders caused more than £9,000 damage to the Co-op store, in Norwich Road, Claydon, store after ploughing into it in an attempt to steal a cash machine.
A green Isuzu Trooper car, stolen from Old Ipswich Road in the village, was slammed into the building three times during the incident.
The gang then tried to wrench out the bolted-down cash machine by tying a strap around it and attaching it to the back of the car. But that was unsuccessful and the offenders left without taking anything.
David Simpkin, 54, who lives next door to the store, said: “We were woken by the screeching of the car and looked out of the window to see a vehicle to-ing and fro-ing into the building..”
The ram-raiders fled in a K-registered red Rover Vitesse, which had been stolen from Christchurch Street in Ipswich earlier in the day.
Barry Hawkes, area manager of the Co-op, said the store was likely to reopen today.
A spokesman for Suffolk police added: “We are working with Essex Police and investigating the likelihood that the offences are linked.”
Anyone with information should contact either Colchester police on 01206 762212 for the Dedham and Weeley raids or Stowmarket police on 01473 383413 for the Claydon raid.