Bowls club latest victim of armed gang

Officials at a Norfolk bowls club spoke of their shock last night after becoming the victims of the latest in a series of armed robberies in the west of the county.

Officials at a Norfolk bowls club spoke of their shock last night after becoming the victims of the latest in a series of armed robberies in the west of the county.

A gang of three balaclava-clad men equipped with shotguns and a metal bar struck the Weeting Bowls Club on the Norfolk-Suffolk border in the early hours of yesterday.

Detectives are linking the incident, near Thetford, to a series of targeted attacks on rural premises and homes connected to businesses by a "dangerous" gang, who are believed to be responsible for at least seven raids in the last two weeks.

Three of the five bowls-club members who were victims of the Weeting armed robbery told last night of the "menacing" incident, which cleared the building of its till takings, cash from the safe and cigarettes.

Kevin Newman, chairman of the Weeting club, said he was just locking up the building, in Lynn Road, on Monday night when the raiders, who were dressed in dark clothes and balaclavas, entered shortly after midnight demanding money.

"They came through the door masked and with shotguns and were here for about six or seven minutes," he said. "We were relieved when they were gone and that no one was hurt. We have had silly things like vandalism and criminal damage before but never on this scale. "They weren't aggressive, but were quite collected and they had obviously done it before."

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Paul Biggs, treasurer at the club, who also witnessed the armed robbery, added: "I am still shaking, to be honest. You just do not expect this thing to happen at your village bowls club. You are scared at the start and you are hoping that no one is going to pull the trigger. Then you are angry and then just relieved that they are gone."

The armed gang made off in a vehicle driven by a fourth man in the direction of Methwold. Armed police and other units were immediately dispatched to the scene but the offending vehicle was not found.

In the last two weeks, the same gang is believed to have targeted homes and businesses across west Norfolk and the Fens and shots have been fired in at least two of the attacks, although no one has yet been injured.

Detectives at Norfolk police's crack major investigation team (MIT) launched an investigation into the latest raid, with additional armed-response officers, dog units and local units remaining in place in the west of the county.

Det Insp Mark Beresford, who is leading the investigation, said his team was working "flat out" to find the raiders and he appealed for the public and business owners to be vigilant.

"The Weeting robbery bears a number of similarities to the earlier cases and is therefore being linked at this time," he said. "While two of the men brandished shotguns, no firearms were discharged and thankfully no one was hurt, although this was obviously a frightening incident for those involved."

The investigation had previously linked armed robberies dating from September 10 at homes and business premises in Nordelph, Stowbridge, North Runcton, Upwell and Wereham.

Children were present in the property when a weapon was fired in a robbery in Upwell on September 16.

A similar incident at Elm near Wisbech is being investigated by Cambridgeshire police and the Norfolk team is working closely with colleagues in both Cambridgeshire and other forces.

Anyone with information about the offences is asked to contact Norfolk MIT at Downham Market Police Station on 0845 456 4567 or Crime-stoppers anonymously on 0800 555111.

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