THIEVES smashed their way into a jewellers and stole a ‘significant amount’ of high-value watches after setting fires to distract emergency services.
Detectives said at least seven people were involved in the raid on Ernest Jones in Cascades Shopping Centre, Portsmouth, just before 3am yesterday.
Four men smashed a glass door at the back of the centre, in Charlotte Street, and set several fires to distract emergency services before going in.
Obstructions were placed in the street in a bid to thwart police arriving at the burglary. Although unconfirmed, sources say they were stinger-type devices.
Raiders burst into the centre, using tools to bend and lift the heavy metal shutters to get inside the jewellery shop.
Smashed glass cabinets could be seen inside the shop. Breitling and Omega watches are thought to have been taken.
The burglars left sledgehammers and tools, which were seen in evidence bags yesterday, as they fled through Wallis into Commercial Road.
The clothing store’s entrance in the shopping street was badly damaged after the raiders made their way out.
A security guard was in the centre at the time of the 2.52am raid and the centre’s alarm was set off, The News understands. No-one has been arrested.
One worker at the centre said the alarm sounded when the fire was set.
‘It does look like a professional job,’ the man, in his 20s, said.
‘There are rumours that they put tracks down on the high street to stop police.’
Police have confirmed ‘obstructions’ were put down in the road.
‘It’s thought fires were started to distract emergency services during the burglary,’ a Hampshire police spokesman said in a statement.
‘The men appeared to gain entry to the shopping centre and a significant amount of jewellery is believed to have subsequently been taken.
‘They appeared to leave the centre by breaking into the Wallis store and using an exit in the premises.
‘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.
A PCSO was yesterday guarding the jewellery store, where sledgehammers could be seen in evidence bags.
Crime scene investigators were dusting a foot stool for prints inside the shop in the afternoon after photographing rucksacks near the entrance to Wallis.
Centre staff were seen cleaning up the remains of a fire at the rear entrance to the shopping centre near Starbucks.
Writing on The News’ Facebook page, Nikki Rummins, branch manager at Ernest Jones, 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.’
Police are investigating whether or not the raid is linked to other burglaries.
Shoppers have reacted with shock to the early hours raid.
Sandy Melrose-Smith, 71, of Inverness Road, Buckland, said: ‘It’s just appalling, it’s horrifying what goes on in Portsmouth,’ she said.
‘I find it very unsettling. With things like this you wonder what is going on.’
Market stall worker Conrad Williams, 34, from Gladys Avenue, North End, saw police when he turned up at 8.20am.
He said: ‘It seems like it was well planned. It’s always going to happen, there’s always going to be people out there that do this sort of thing.’
Caroline Donald, 59, from Buckland, added: ‘It’s terrible, it’s absolutely shocking. They went to all those lengths, all that trouble, for a few bits of jewellery.’
Detectives in Portsmouth’s burglary team are investigating the incident. Call police on 101 quoting 44160278306.
Rhoda Joseph, Cascades Centre director, said: ‘I’d like to reassure shoppers that Cascades is open for business.’