A gang of thieves dressed in Halloween ‘Scream’ masks were today being hunted by police after smashing their way into at least 11 Fylde coast convenience stores.
Today The Gazette reveals images, captured on CCTV, of the moment the gang burst into Costcutters in Carleton after throwing a brick through a glass panel in the door before helping themselves to a large quantity of cigarettes.
Detectives investigating the burglary have now launched a major manhunt for the group of three raiders, linking them to at least 11 burglaries over the past two weeks.
The family-run store on Blackpool Road, Carleton, was the latest shop to be targeted by the gang at 2.50am yesterday.
Matthew Smith, 38, the owner, said: “I got a phone call at home at around 3.10am saying the alarm had gone off and it had been confirmed there was an intruder.
“I slowly made my way down to the store as I purposely did not want to confront the thieves.
“When I arrived there were two police cars and a number of officers stood at the entrance and together we came inside.
“They had smashed the bottom panel in the door with a brick and then crawled through the hole wearing Halloween masks to cover their faces. Once they were inside, they went straight behind the counter and started to fill their bags with cigarettes.”
The three intruders, who were each wearing masks similar to those used in the horror film Scream, got away with more than £800 worth of cigarettes in the few minutes they were in the store.
Mr Smith, who caught the entire raid on CCTV, has refused to let the incident close his business.
He said: “It is so frustrating living in fear about being targeted by thieves the moment you leave the shop. It’s a horrible feeling thinking someone might break in and rob you.
“We are a small family-run business. We work long hours to provide a good service and a nice shop for the community. So for someone to come in and desecrate it is heartbreaking.
“I think people need warning. I have spoken out because the more people who know what is going on the more people can act as eyes and ears for the local shops.”
The Premier Convenience store on Blackpool Old Road, Poulton, located less than half a mile from the Costcutter store has also been targeted by the gang. Supervisor Louise Kent said: “We were burgled around 1.30am on October 24.
“We were locked up and the alarm was on when the thieves just pulled up outside, removed the glass panel in the door and helped themselves to about £1,000 of tobacco.
“The thieves were caught on CCTV. There was only two of them and one stayed in the car like a getaway driver while the other one came inside.
“He had a scarf covering his face and he was inside the shop for less than 90 seconds.”
The Co-op store on Harrowside, South Shore, was targeted at 12.45am on October 25; Booths on Highfield Road, South Shore, was raided at 12.10am on October 27; Smiley’s convenience store on Watson Road, South Shore, was hit at 11pm on October 28; the Shell Garage on Hey Houses Lane, St Annes was targeted at 11.50pm on October 28; Woodlands Wine, on Woodlands Road, Ansdell was raided on Thursday at 1.45am; Tesco Express on St David’s Road North, St Annes was broken into at 2am on Thursday; Spar and Wrea Green Sub Post Office, on Smithy Fold, Wrea Green was targeted at 1.10am on Thursday and Paper Shop Plus on Common Edge Road, Blackpool was also raided at 3.20am on Thursday.
Police said in almost all the burglaries the thieves had been after cigarettes.
David May, the owner of two Costcutter stores in Bispham and Blackpool said he is “angry and frustrated” both of his businesses have been targeted by the gang.
The first burglary at his Preston Old Road store took place around 11.30pm on October 15 when a man with a scarf covering their face used a crowbar to smash his way through the window.
Mr May said: “The most annoying thing is that he was only in the shop for less than a few minutes but he got away with around £800 worth of cigarettes at cost price.”
The second burglary at his Bispham Road store took place around midnight on Wednesday.
Sgt Adam Lee, of Blackpool Police’s Impact Team, said: “I would appeal to anybody that has noticed anybody acting suspiciously in any of these areas or with any information about these break ins to come forward and speak with police by calling 101.”