A GANG of cigarette thieves have struck again - the second time in just 48 hours in Southampton.
Thousands of pounds worth of stock was taken when raiders forced their way in to a city newsagents early yesterday morning.
Shop staff told how they arrived at the premises in Coxford to find the metal shutters torn open and glass strewn across the pavement.
CCTV footage which is being examined by police is believed to show a gang of four men in their early 20s arrive at Hollyoak Stores in Holly Oak Road at 4.30am, some of them on a motorbike.
The thieves, who were all wearing hooded jumpers, used an iron pole to prize the shutters open and smash their way through the glass door panel before three of them entered the shop.
They jumped across the counter, forced the shutters across the cigarette counter and made off with £5,000 worth of cigarettes.
Police examine the scene at Hollyoak Stores
It is the second time in 12 months that the shop has been raided - a gang made off with beer, spirits and cigarettes in June.
And the break-in comes after the Daily Echo revealed how the BP petrol station in Paynes Road in Shirley was targeted in exactly the same way and around the same time of the morning on Saturday - again involving four masked men.
In that burglary they stole cash from the till as well as a large quantity of cigarettes.
Gnana Sooriya, owner of Hollyoak Stores, took over the shop last month and had planned a refit as he prepared to move to Southampton from London with his family.
The 40-year-old dad-of-two said: “I only took over on March 24 but everyone's always polite and helpful. These thieves must be from another area.
“I'm frightened that this could happen again and that someone could get hurt.
“We had planned to move to this area but I need to think about it now because I have two children.”
The shop is open as normal today but the theft has left residents shaken.
Ashraf Sumra, 35, a teaching assistant who has recently moved to Holly Oak Road from Romsey, said: “I've only just bought the place so it's a little bit unnerving. I've only been here a couple of weeks.”
Denise Elslick, 67, retired, said: “It's not very nice. That's the second time it's happened but I still feel safe because I've lived here all my life and it's a close knit community. Word will soon get out about who did it.”
Police are appealing for witnesses to come forward by calling 101.