POLICE are hunting three armed men who carried out a frightening daylight robbery on the Francis Wain jewellery shop in Lynn this morning (Tuesday).
A sledgehammer was used to smash the main window of the Norfolk Street shop and expensive items were grabbed from displays before the robbers made off in a silver Mercedes people carrier.
Early reports suggested the suspects might also have had firearms.
One elderly woman, who had collapsed through shock or been knocked over during the incident, needed medical attention from a paramedic on a bicycle, who was one of the first to arrive at the scene afterwards.
The people carrier had been driven into the pedestrian precinct along High Street before turning into Norfolk Street and pulling up outside the jewellery shop at about 9.45am.
A Big Issue seller, who was nearby, said: “I was just sitting talking to someone when this silver people carrier pulled up with three people in it. Two of them were definitely men but all had their faces covered.
“One of them had a sledgehammer and he ran in with another, they smashed something inside and ran out again. They screeched off in the car and it was over in minutes.
“They had smoke canisters, it wasn’t tear gas but it was obviously to confuse people.
“I told a couple of people to get out of the way – if anyone tried to be a hero they would have been really hurt. These guys meant business.”
Another eye witness, in a nearby shop, said: “They were wearing white boiler suits and had scarves around their mouths so you could just see their eyes, then it all went mental.
“A lot of smoke went off and I saw them smash the window with a sledgehammer and they were scooping up the items on display. We were all screaming and shaking and I saw them looking at us.
“It only lasted about a minute at most before the van drove off. It just didn’t seem real – and still doesn’t. It was like a dream sequence, when your brain doesn’t work fast enough to take it all in.”
Shift manager Chris McKenna, 23, in an office above the nearby Subway fast food shop, thought the people carrier was on fire “because it looked like someone was spraying a fire extinguisher from inside it”.
He said: “I heard this bang and saw someone spraying. I thought he was trying to get the van out of the way of the public because it was going to explode.
“Then I saw everyone looking at Francis Wain’s and realised something had happened there. People ran straight into Caffe Nero’s (coffee shop) and they shut the door, so I ran downstairs to make sure everybody was all right in our shop.”
His thoughts were with the staff at Francis Wain. “The people who have been robbed have got to live with those memories,” he said.
A staff member at Marks and Spencer said: “We were told by customers that there were men with guns and tear gas outside, robbing the jewellery shop. A lady collapsed either from the gas or shock.
“We got management down as quickly as possible and locked the doors but it was over in minutes.”
Shirley Rumens, supervisor at Just Essentials, said: “I heard this car screech up the road and wondered what on earth was going on, then everyone was running down the street.
“I poked my head out the door and called the police – we gave them the registration of the car. Apparently, it has already been found round the corner where it was dumped and they switched vehicles.
“The whole thing didn’t even last three or four minutes.
“These people don’t realise the impact they have on people, I’m still shaking. That poor lady collapsed, probably from the shock of it all.”
A Norfolk police statement said: “Three men were in the vehicle at the time and a window of the jeweller’s was smashed, with various items of value taken. It is thought firearms of some description were seen with the suspects.”
Crime investigation and forensic officers are currently at the premises, where the protective blinds have come down, while other police officers search for the robbers.
About four months ago, the same Francis Wain shop was the scene of an audacious theft when a man snatched a diamond ring worth nearly £100,000 and ran off with it.
The Picchiotti white gold ring, with a large emerald-cut diamond, surrounded by baguette diamonds, was stolen on October 6 as the man was being shown a couple of items by an assistant.
■ Anyone who witnessed Tuesday’s robbery, or saw any suspicious activity before it, should contact Lynn CID on the non-emergency phone number 101 or call Crimestoppers, anonymously, on 0800 555111.