TERRIFIED workers at a phone shop locked themselves in a staffroom as a vicious armed gang destroyed and stole thousands of pounds worth of phones and iPads.
EE, in the Lion Walk Shopping Centre, Colchester, was targeted by between four and six violent hammer-wielding crooks at about 4.30pm on Tuesday.
The police have since said they believe the thugs, who were wearing hoodies and balaclavas, could be aged between 16 and 18.
After entering the shop they smashed up its counters while trying to steal expensive display phones, including Google and Apple devices.
The store’s customer adviser Sam, who has worked for EE for 12 years, believes the cost of the smash-and-grab robbery could be in the region of a good few thousand pounds.
She said: “I think they were waiting for us to close but then they just came in and started completely smashing the place up.
“They destroyed a new iPad Pro, which we still have, and took three iPhones and a couple of Google phones – so it was a good few grands worth.
“There was blood on the floor where they must have cut themselves, but they did not seem to care – they must have done it before because they were quite confident.”
Two of Sam’s colleagues were working at the Trinity Square branch at the time of the horrifying ambush, but they thankfully managed to rush to a place of safety.
“The boys realised what was happening and went out the back but could see what they were doing on the CCTV,” added Sam, who had not long finished her shift.
“They are fine now, but it is worrying because these people do not care about anyone else, so you wonder what they could be capable of if you were to approach them.”
Martin Leatherdale, manager of Lion Walk Shopping Centre, says he is now working with Essex Police in a bid to catch those responsible.
He said: "I can confirm on Tuesday afternoon approximately five young persons entered one of our stores and attempted to make off with a handful of high value technology products.
"As I understand nobody was injured in the incident and it was over within approximately a minute.
"Police and security teams responded within a minute of being made aware by an alarm and the culprits were tracked. I am very pleased with the police response.
"We have secured comprehensive high definition CCTV footage and I have every confidence the perpetrators will be caught and prosecuted.
"Fortunately these incidents are very rare and this seems somewhat of a craze evident from social media videos."
Essex Police have now appealed for anyone with information to come forward.
A spokesman said: "We were called to the EE Store in the Lion Walk Shopping Centre in Colchester shortly after 4:30pm on Tuesday following reports of an aggravated burglary.
"Around six suspects entered the store, one with a hammer and caused a large amount of criminal damage to the store and products.
"The suspects also stole a number of mobile phones from the store.
"The suspects were around 16 to 18 years old and were all wearing balaclavas and hoodies.
"We attended but no arrests have been made at this stage. Anyone with any information is asked to contact us.
"If you have any information, CCTV, dash cam or other footage in relation to this incident, then please get in contact with us.
"You can call us on 101. Please quote incident 42/285724/22."
EE said it would not comment on an ongoing investigation.