Three burglars caught on camera breaking into a shop in Uckfield got away with £10,000 worth of power tools on Sunday night.
Owner Ben Mitchell was alerted to the raid at The Stores Dept, on the Bellbrook Estate, by his alarm company at 7.40pm.
But by the time he got to the premises at 8.15pm, from his home on Manor Park, the police were waiting for him while the thieves had gone.
They stole about £10,000 worth of power tools, choosing things that could be taken onto a building site and sold quickly, according to Mr Mitchell. He said they were in and out within two-and-a-half minutes.
The metal security shutter was pulled off the shop frontage and a crowbar was used to get through the specially-strengthened door. The door held the thieves up for 11 minutes.
CCTV showed the burglars checking out nearby units and also peering into Screwfix across the road. Mr Mitchell’s own cameras didn’t show their van’s number-plate but he is hoping the police will be able to inspect footage from the other cameras to get more clues to the identity of the thieves.
Mr Mitchell said it was the third time his business had been raided in nine years.
“This is only a small business. I am a local guy and it’s been quite tough for the last few years what with the recession and the insurance premium after last time. This time it might cripple me.
“It’s frustrating and demoralising when I’m trying to offer a good service to the community.”
The burglars left only two power tools out of the 15 or 20 that were in the store.
“When you look at the CCTV footage and see them coming into the shop you get the feeling they knew they were walking to the area where the valuable stuff was.
“I have the feeling they have been in the shop, even that they might be customers, because they knew exactly where they were going.”
Mr Mitchell said that in each of the burglaries the same high value power tools had been stolen.
He was full of praise for Melvin Bridgland, of Shield Industrial Doors, who cancelled all his jobs and spent Monday repairing the security roller and welding metal together to make a temporary door.
Mr Mitchell said Melvin’s support meant a lot and so did all the messages he had received from well-wishers.
“I had been thinking that if the insurance premium goes up too much I would have to think about closing the business because I can’t afford to keep going.
“But the support makes me feel quite emotional and that I should try to keep my head up and carry on.”
Sussex Police said the offenders broke into The Stores Dept just before 7.25pm, forcing open shutters, activating an alarm and making off no more than three or four minutes later in a white Transit-style van.
A police spokesman said: “It is thought that there may have been a number of offenders, all wearing hooded tops or hats, head torches and gloves.
“Anyone who witnessed them or the van in the Bellbrook Industrial Estate area around the time of the burglary or anything suspicious in the time leading up to it is asked to report online to https://sussex.police.uk/contact-us/response-to-appeal/, or call 101 quoting reference 1104 of 26/03.”