Reward to help catch store raiders

A REWARD of £1,500 is on offer today to help trace a gang of armed robbers believed to be responsible for a series of terrifying raids across Suffolk and Essex.

A REWARD of £1,500 is on offer today to help trace a gang of armed robbers believed to be responsible for a series of terrifying raids across Suffolk and Essex.

The latest raid – in Lavenham on Wednesday night – prompted calls for a heightened police presence in rural areas as residents and businesses grow increasingly concerned at the rapidly rising number of shops and post offices being targeted.

The EADT has today joined forced with a shopkeeper to offer £1,500 for information leading to the conviction of the robbers.

Detectives say they believe the same masked-gang, armed with sawn-off shotguns and a host of other weapons, may be responsible for up to 19 armed robberies and ram-raids across Suffolk and Essex since October. Ten of the violent raids have happened within the last month, and four in the past six days.

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A Suffolk police spokesman said: "It is fair to say that all the raids could possibly be linked due to the weapons used, the number of people involved, the methods of the crimes, and their times and locations."

The gang, which uses shotguns, axes, baseball bats, metal poles and wrenches to terrorise staff and shoppers, has escaped with thousands of pounds in total and caused extensive damage to many of the premises hit.

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The men are aggressive and threatening – at least one victim had a gun pointed at her face, while others have been forced to lie on the floor at gunpoint. A common theme of all the crimes is that the robbers always use stolen cars during the raids and wear black balaclavas.

The latest raid happened at the Lavenham Co-op at around 6.35pm on Wednesday night. Two masked men armed with a firearm and axe threatened staff before taking cash from a safe and a customer's handbag. They fled the scene in a blue Vauxhall Astra, believed to have been stolen from Walnuttree Lane, Sudbury.

A spokesman for Co-op, which has seen eight of its stores, some more than once, targeted by raiders since October, said: "Understandably, we are concerned about the recent spate of incidents in the area, but we are confident we can find a solution by working with the police."

An Essex police spokesman added: "We are continuing to look into all the armed robberies and are in contact with neighbouring forces to consider the possible links. We are keeping an open mind at this stage."

Henry Byham, who owns Spar shops in Long Melford and Great Cornard, both of which have been subjected to terrifying armed raids in the past four weeks, has agreed to put £500 to the reward fund.

He added: "We need more police on the beat, it is as simple as that. These people obviously need to be caught but there is a clear lack of police presence in rural areas and that is why shops and post offices like mine are being targeted by raiders.

"There was a similar problem at a town in Kent, the police there launched a scheme to introduce six more police officers on the beat and within six-months robberies fell by 33%."

Suffolk police have pledged to step up Operation's Penny and Artic, where police officers advise rural shopkeepers on security measures.

The spokesman said: "We are, of course, concerned about the increase in the number of robberies and the possibility of staff or shoppers being harmed in this way and that is why we are offering the advice."

Suffolk police, Essex Police and the Co-op are all considering adding to the reward fund. Anyone with any information regarding the robberies should call Suffolk police on 01473 613500 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555111.

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