Ram raiders target Great Witchingham village post office, near Norwich

Ram raiders have destroyed a village post office, causing thousands of pounds worth of damage.

The would-be thieves reversed a stolen Mercedes Sprinter van into the Great Witchingham Post Office and shop yesterday morning, but escaped empty-handed.

Owners Alan and Sharon Patrick, who recently sold the Fakenham Road business, were woken by the noise just after 2am.

Mr Patrick, 56, disturbed the thieves and the van was later found abandoned six miles away in Mattishall, near Dereham.

'I've got a shop in pieces,' he said. 'The alarms went off at about 2am and there was a white van outside. There was a fellow on the shop and I tried to grab hold of him. He's lucky I didn't catch him.

'They were going for the cash machine, but we always leave the door open so people can see it's empty. If they had two brain cells connected, they would have realised that.

'We will be out of business and bankrupt by the time we've cleared this up.'

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The shop, near Norwich, was also robbed in July when thieves broke a window and took the till, getting away with only �4.

'We have been here 12 years and this is the fifth time someone has tried to get in,' Mrs Patrick added.

Resident Ian Hands, who was woken by the noise just after 2am, said: 'When we came down there were bricks all over the road, a lot of debris, almost like a bomb had hit the place. We realised people inside the shop were OK - that's the main thing.'

Many customers, some carrying parcels and letters, arrived yesterday morning to find the front of the shop caved in and shelves of food, sweets and cards exposed to the wind and rain.

The nearest post offices are in Reepham, Hockering and Attlebridge after surrounding villages lost their branches.

Parish clerk Peter Dilloway said Lyng Post Office had been ram raided about two years ago and had been closed for 15 months, eventually re-opening as a shop only.

Branches at North Tuddenham and Elsing have also shut over the past couple of years, so Lenwade had been very busy, he said.

'They are all falling by the wayside,' Mr Dilloway said. 'It's a major loss.'

Great Witchingham Parish Council is exploring the possibility of a community transport scheme so residents are able to collect their pensions.

Police crime scene investigators were at the scene earlier today and the van is also expected to be examined by forensic experts.

Contact DS Tom Smith at Norwich CID on 0845 456 4567 or call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111 with any information.