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The attack on the police cars gave the gang of six men vital extra time to complete their raid on Nicholas Shaw Antiques after they forced their way through the security grill and entered the shop armed with crowbars and baseball bats.

They are thought to have made off with more than 400 objects valued in total at six figures during the raid in the very early hours of Thursday, July 8.

“A truly frightening degree of violence was used,” said Mr Shaw, who lives above the premises. “I woke up when I heard the sound of breaking glass. There was a gang outside with a hook fixed around the grille and attached to a reversing car.

“Once the central strut of the grille had given way, four of them wearing balaclavas piled into the shop, smashing the cabinets and chucking the silver into large plastic dustbins.”

The silver was thrown into the back of a Vauxhall Astra estate, but the gang had also stolen a BMW that police later found abandoned.

“What was shocking was they didn’t care about damaging the silver,” said Mr Shaw. “Some pieces must have been dented when they were being madly flung about.”

The items stolen included a Victorian Scottish silver punch bowl made in Edinburgh 1897-98 by David Crichton, 10in (26cm) high; a pair of five-light Austro-Hungarian candelabra, c.1890, 17 1/2in (38cm) high; and a queen Anne tankard made in London
1705-06 by John Fawdrey, 10in (26cm) high.

Det Insp McKnight, who is investigating the case, said: “It was
a professionally organised job. Their execution, however, was quite amateur. The thieves had clearly identified the premises in advance and demobilised the police vehicles.”

Mr Shaw said that despite the robbery, he would soon resume trading. The shop, however, will be closed until the end of the month. “We are determined to continue, albeit with less stock.

“We would like to thank the many members of the public and trade for their letters of support under these difficult circumstances,” he said.

An identical theft had also occurred in Hungerford in Berkshire two days before. In this case, the premises of Styles Silver was raided by a gang of four that smashed through the front doors and began to fill a dustbin with a range of coffee pots, teasets, and tableware.

They were not put off by the alarm that went off and the CCTV cameras in the road. Their hoard would have been much greater, but they were forced to make an improvised getaway after Derek Styles confronted them with a pool cue.

Although Hungerford police station is only two minutes away from the shop, again the police found their tyres slashed. One of the items stolen was an unusual 9 1/2in (24cm) high Victorian coffee pot made in London 1847 by J.E. Terry. D.I. McKnight said: “We are exploring the links between the two robberies.”

Anyone with information is asked to contact Sussex police on 0845 6070999 quoting crime reference number 32/08/07/04.