Up to pounds 5m in cash was stolen during a post office raid after criminals duped a postal worker into thinking they were holding his family hostage, it was revealed yesterday.
Five men, armed with shotguns and a handgun, handcuffed staff at the post office in Hastings, East Sussex, before driving off in a van.
The gang were able to execute a successful and speedy raid by gaining the help of a worker at the post office. He was approached in the street outside on Wednesday afternoon by one of the raiders and shown a photograph of his wife and children. He was then told that his family were being held hostage and would be harmed unless he told them about post office security arrangements and helped them get in.
At 8.10pm on Wednesday - details of the raid were only released yesterday - a van containing four men, all wearing balaclavas, one with a pump-action shotgun, one with a sawn-off shotgun and another with a handgun - arrived at the post office in Cambridge Road.
The men were let into the building where they handcuffed two members of staff and tied up a third. They spent about 20 minutes loading the cash - intended for pensions and benefits payments - into the back of the van before driving off. No-one was injured.
Only after the alarm had been raised did the employee who had helped them realise their story had been a hoax. His family knew nothing of the raid and had not been held hostage. Armed police mounted an operation around the family's home in Hastings on Wednesday night but found them safe.
However, the police said yesterday that the man had been "terrified" and that the telephone lines to his house may have been cut because he was unable to reach them after being approached by the raider.
A police spokesman said: "The photograph had been taken somewhere in Hastings, sometime before the raid happened. The post office worker had tried to contact his family after he was shown the picture but he couldn't get them on the telephone."
Detective Superintendent Paul Westwood said: "We are pursuing a number of lines of inquiry and will be interviewing staff later. The guns certainly looked real to the staff involved who were extremely frightened by what happened."
The robber carrying a pump-action shotgun was described as being in his 30s, with a stocky build and ginger eyebrows.
His partner carrying a pistol was said to be 5ft 8ins and of medium build. He was wearing a black bomber jacket with a pilot's flying hat.
The raider who approached the post office worker was described as between 30 and 35, 6ft tall, clean shaven with a dark complexion. He was wearing a plain red baseball cap and had short dark hair.Reuse content