FIRES were set as a distraction while thieves raided a jewellers in Portsmouth, detectives have said.
Up to seven people were involved in the raid on Ernest Jones in Cascades Shopping Centre just before 3am today.
Four men damaged a door in Charlotte Street and set a number of fires in the area.
A Hampshire police spokesman said: ‘It’s thought these fires were started to distract emergency services during the burglary.
‘The men appeared to gain entry to the shopping centre and a significant amount of jewellery is believed to have subsequently been taken from Ernest Jones.
‘They appeared to leave the centre by breaking into the Wallis store and using an exit in the premises.
I can confirm that no customer items were involvedNikki Rummins
‘At least seven people are believed to have been involved in this incident.’
Detectives are now scouring CCTV and looking to see if the burglary was linked to any other incidents.
Police are today guarding the Ernest Jones store, where sledgehammers can be seen in evidence bags in the shop.
The shop’s heavy metal shutter has been bent upwards, giving access to the jewellers.
Centre staff are busy cleaning up the remnants of a fire at the rear entrance near the car park.
Police said some of the thieves escaped through Wallis clothes shop, which opens on to Commercial Road, and is taped off.
Crime scene investigators are photographing rucksacks and combing the shop for clues.
Writing on The News Facebook page, Nikki Rummins said she was the branch manager.
She said: ‘I can confirm that no customer items were involved.
‘The store will be closed today. I can’t provide any further information due to the ongoing police investigation.’
One worker said the alarm sounded at around 3am when the fire was set.
‘It does look like a professional job,’ the man in his 20s said.
‘There’s rumours that they put tracks down on the high street to stop police cars.’
Detectives from Portsmouth’s burglary team are today investigating the incident.
Call police on 101 quoting 44160278306 with any information.