Ram raiders smashed an ATM out of the wall at a Co-op store.

A gang using a heavy duty vehicle targeted the store, in Colchester Road, Halstead, at around 2.45am yesterday.

The crooks, who were all wearing black clothing, repeatedly reversed the heavy vehicle into the outside wall of the shop, before using saws and chains to wrench the cash machine from the building.

Both the stolen ATM and the three vehicles involved in the burglary were later recovered by Essex Police, who are investigating whether the incident is linked to other similar raids in the area.

Essex Fire and Rescue Service were called in to ensure the property was safe but the Co-op store will be closed for the foreseeable future.

One resident, who asked not to be named, saw the whole incident unfold from inside their home.

He said: “My missus woke me up to say there was a huge crash and she could see a lorry by the Co-op outside the window.

“She told me to ring the police. You could clearly see this white lorry smashing the life out of the wall.

“There was a car parked in the car park and another car blocking the road off.

“The next thing we knew we heard the saws going.”

After roughly ten minutes, the five to eight raiders made their exit towards Colchester, with the ATM in tow.

The resident added: “The lorry’s wheels were spinning as they dragged the ATM down the road.

“It was all over very quickly.

“I shouted at them out the window but they were not bothered at all. They were as bold as brass.

“My wife is petrified now in case they have seen us reporting it to the police.

“We know the staff pretty well in the Co-op and it must be awful for them.”

A spokesman for the Co-op, said the store had suffered “extensive” damage.

“It is too early to confirm further details or indicate when we will be able to re-open to serve the community,” he added.

Det Insp Rob Kirby, of Braintree CID, issued an appeal for witnesses to come forward.

Officers are particularly keen to trace the driver of a Mitsubishi Shogun which was seen in the area.

Mr Kirby said: “We are working to establish whether any money was stolen from the recovered ATM.

“We’re also keeping an open mind as to whether this is linked to other incidents which appear to have similarities.”

A temporary branch of the Co-op was set up in Dedham after thieves ram raided the store in the High Street last December.

They drove into the front of the building in a Toyota Hilux but left empty handed.

Anyone with information on yesterday’s raid is asked to contact Braintree CID on 101, or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

No arrests have been made.