Sledgehammer gang of 10 storms top jewellery stores in first Westfield raid

Smash-and-grab raiders got away with jewellery worth hundreds of thousands of pounds when they struck at the Westfield shopping centre today.

A gang of at least 10 men in balaclavas stormed the complex at Shepherd’s Bush and used sledgehammers to smash their way into Tiffany & Co and De Beers branches just before 1.20am.

They scooped handfuls of diamond rings, bracelets and necklaces into bags. Police arrived just as the gang’s three getaway cars were pulling away. There was a high-speed chase but the gang escaped.

Both jewellers are in The Village, where Westfield’s premium stores are located, on the ground floor and near the entrance of the complex.

The gang were inside the complex for only a few minutes but seemingly managed to flee without being challenged by security staff.

Neither Tiffany & Co nor De Beers would comment on how much had been stolen but witnesses said there were several empty shelves at both premises this morning. Busts used for displaying jewellery in Tiffany’s windows had been stripped and the shops themselves were cordoned off.

The raiders apparently forced open a fire door to get into the centre, which is closed to the public by midnight.

The robbery is believed to be the first organised raid on the complex since it opened in October 2008. Shop and restaurant workers at Westfield today told of their shock that the robbers were able to get into the building.

One restaurant worker, who did not wish to be named, said: “We’ve left our door open by accident at night before and come back in the morning to find security have put a chain on it. You can’t get into Westfield.”

A manager of a café said: “The cinema is open until 11 or so, and the main door remains open until then, but those doors up there to The Village by

Waitrose are supposed to be locked.” Westfield said its security staff “responded immediately” to the robbery but no one was detained.

The raid, just a few hundred yards from Shepherd’s Bush police station, is the latest in a series of smash-and-grab robberies in London.

Gangs of thieves, usually riding stolen mopeds and armed with sledgehammers, have been involved in previous raids on jewellery and designer goods shops, which police believe could be the work of a loosely organised gang, likened to a “Fagin’s Kitchen” and based in north London.

Police in Westminster launched a specialist squad to tackle the gang and made dozens of arrests. However, stores in nearby boroughs have since been targeted in a similar way.

Shops raided in the past include Gucci, Cartier, Tod’s, Chanel and Mulberry. Other Tiffany and De Beers branches have also been raided. In 2005 a suspect died during a police chase following a raid at Tiffany in Sloane Square, after which officers were warned against high-speed pursuit through London’s streets.

Scotland Yard confirmed police had been called to Westfield at 1.20am today to “reports of a robbery in progress” involving up to 10 people. Police said there had been no arrests and there were no injuries.

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