THIEVES smashed their way into a Southampton convenience store and stole a haul of cigarettes.

The raiders forced their way in through the front door at Premier in Park Road, Shirley, and in a matter of minutes made off with all the cigarettes from the counter.

Police were alerted by a member of the public who heard the store’s alarm ringing and called 999 – but when they arrived the thieves had fled, making their getaway on a motorbike believed to have travelled towards Shirley.

Officers have spent the past two days carrying out enquiries and searching the area following the raid at 3.41am on Tuesday. Now they are appealing for witnesses who may have seen the three men thought to be responsible.

The trio were all wearing hoodies, and two wore balaclavas to hide their faces.

The raid has all the hallmarks of similar cigarette thefts that have occurred in Southampton this year.

In April a gang of cigarette thieves struck in Hollyoak Stores in Coxford and stole stock worth £5,000, having forced open the metal shutters.

In that burglary they also fled the scene on a motorbike.

A BP petrol station in Paynes Road, Freemantle, was then targeted in May by a masked gang who smashed their way in and made off with cigarettes and cash from the till.

In January, Hampshire police launched Operation Drench to combat the rising number of raids at shops and convenience stores, having recorded 26 such crimes related to cigarette thefts since November 21 last year, in which tobacco worth tens of thousands of pounds was taken.

Newsagents and shops in the Shirley, Bitterne, Eastleigh and Southampton areas have been targeted in the raids, most of which have happened late at night or in the early hours.

A spokeswoman for Hampshire police said: “We would welcome any information from anyone who saw a motorbike in the area, which had two or possibly three men on it.”

Anyone with information is asked to call police on 101, or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.