Watch: Thieves smash open safe with sledgehammer at McColl’s in Bedminster in distraction burglary

The raid at the North Street store was one of three carried out by the gang in Bristol on the same day

A shopkeeper in Bedminster has described the moment he discovered a gang of distraction thieves had targeted his store - as police launch a television appeal to track down the criminals.

Louis Clarke said he was now ‘wary of every single customer’ who comes into McColl’s in North Street following the incident on January 15, in an interview for BBC One’s Crimewatch Live.

His store was one of three places targeted by the gang of four, who also stole from a shop in Gloucester Road in Horfield and a supermarket in Eastville on the same day. Avon and Somerset Police believe the gang is not from the area, and has been responsible for similar raids across the country.

Describing the incident, Mr Clarke said he remembered the four men coming into the store at around 3.20pm before one of them spoke to him about the sandwich deals at the fridge section. Meanwhile, two from the gang went to the till to speak to the other worker.

The full Crimewatch appeal can be watched by clicking here

At the same time, CCTV shows the fourth man, with a baseball cap, going into the store office. After a search he discovers keys to the safe, and after being unable to open a compartment inside he brings in a sledgehammer with one of his accomplices to get inside.

One of the gang uses a sledgehammer to smash open a compartment in the safe at McColls in Bedminster

After 10 to 15 minutes, all the men leave the store.

Mr Clarke said: “[A neighbour] came in and asked if we had been robbed because three gentlemen had jumped into a Mercedes and raced off. I saw that the safe was in the middle of the floor, tipped over with the door smashed off, which was a massive massive shock.”

A total of £1,814 was stolen.

Louis Clarke, from McColls in North Street, Bedminster says he is now ‘a lot more cautious’ following the incident

He added: “I’m a lot more cautious. I’ve been very wary of every single customer that comes into the store.

“You kind of just think that everybody’s a thief and everybody will be a thief. We don’t know what could have happened - it is just a great escape I guess because something bad could have happened to either one of us.”

Detectives investigating have since linked a similar distraction burglary involving the gang at a store in Gloucester Road in Horfield, where £3,000 worth of cigarettes was stolen.

The four men involved in the raids captured on CCTV

They also think the criminals were the same who smashed into the back of a supermarket in Eastville on the same day, taking away £800.

Speaking on Crimewatch, DC Helen Shaw from Avon and Somerset Police said: “We believe that they’re not local. They seem to be a very organised crime group. They know what they’re doing - while the three distract the shop owner, the other one goes to the rear of the premises and steals whatever.”

She added: “We know they were in South Wales a day before and we’ve had similar incidents in Hampshire, Wiltshire, Gloucester and Devon and Cornwall.”

The full appeal can be watched by clicking here