At one stage a gunman ran through Brockham, near Dorking, Surrey, firing shots indiscriminately as he was chased by police. Onlookers dived for cover behind parked cars and a telephone box.
Police returned fire and one man collapsed with a gunshot wound to his side. An elderly bystander suffered a gunshot wound to his ankle.
Three raiders wearing green overalls entered the post office where they were challenged by a police sergeant posing as a member of staff. He was stabbed in the chest, and as other officers raced to try to arrest them the gunmen fled. One started firing indiscriminately after their getaway car drove off, leaving them stranded.
A Surrey Police spokesman said that three men had been arrested. All the injured were taken to the Royal East Surrey Hospital, Redhill. The condition of the shot gunman was described as serious.
The spokesman said an independent inquiry into the incident by a senior officer from another force was under way, supervised by Noel Taylor, a full-time member of the Police Complaints Authority.
Crime Squad officers from Number 6 Regional Crime Squad, working with Surrey detectives, tailed the gang from London to Brockham following a tip-off. Police had been waiting in the village since early morning.
Det Supt Pat Crossan admitted villagers had been at risk. 'When shots are being fired indiscriminately clearly there is a risk. But I am satisfied the operation was carried out effectively and efficiently. There were 12 armed police officers involved. It was a planned operation. The gang were challenged as they tried to run into the post office. I am satisfied with the action of our officers, though it is always a matter of regret that anyone is shot.'
He praised the sergeant who, despite being stabbed, pursued the gang for 30 yards before collapsing.
John Woodcock, a farmer, witnessed the gun battle when he drove his tractor through the middle of it. Mr Woodcock, 62, said: 'It was absolute mayhem. There were police in overalls running round with guns and shots going off. I saw a coloured man who had been running along fall to the ground at the side of the road. I was about to go over and give him a hand when two plain clothes policemen rushed over with guns. I think they had just shot him.
'I kept going and then I saw another man being held down by three policemen with guns. One minute everything was quiet and normal and the next minute it was more like the Wild West with gunmen running all over the place. The police were all in plain clothes and it was difficult to tell who were the goodies and who were the baddies.'
Police chased the getaway driver for more than 10 miles before forcing him to stop near Guildford. The village was sealed off for more than five hours afterwards and a sawn-off shotgun was recovered.
Kenneth Baker, the local MP and former Home Secretary, visited the scene and praised police. He said: 'The stabbed police officer is clearly a very brave man indeed. I think the police have acted very professionally, very promptly and very effectively.'Reuse content