WITNESSES have described their horror after robbers armed with hammers smashed their way into a city jewellers in a daytime raid.
A terrified female worker barricaded herself in a window display at the Ernest Jones store while the robbers stole around 40 Rolex watches. It is believed they are worth up to £500,000.
Police have now launched a nationwide hunt for the raiders, with forces around the country alerted to the incident.
The dramatic smash and grab raid happened just before 9am as staff were opening up shops across the city centre.
South West Highways worker Steve Dunn, who was working in the High Street at the time, witnessed the robbery.
The 46-year-old said he watched in disbelief as the men, who are believed to have concealed their faces with scarves, pulled up outside the jewellers before smashing their way through the door in front of the terrified shop worker and shocked passers-by.
He told the Echo: "I saw a black Jaguar reverse into the street. We have lorries coming into the street for the work we're doing so I was going to say to the driver that he had to move his car.
"But then I saw all the windows were steamed up and I couldn't see anything.
"I walked away towards the gate where we're working and then heard a massive bang.
"I turned around and saw the door was open and they were in there.
"The woman in there was blocking their way as she was putting watches out on display in the window.
"They moved her out and then swept up all the watches.
"One of them was standing in the doorway shouting 'get back, get back'.
"I didn't see a weapon but it looked like he had something in his jacket.
"She was screaming. She put up a bit of a fight.
"There were quite a few people watching it and someone rang the police.
"But it was over in seconds, I reckon it was about a minute in total."
Nick Wright, manager of the Five Juice Bar, in the Guildhall Shopping Centre, said a member of his staff also witnessed the raid.
"A member of my staff was walking to work to open up the shop, when she saw three men get out of their car," he said.
"They were all dressed in black and went and smashed the windows in.
"There was a girl just opening up the shop that got caught up in it.
"She said it happened so quickly, she was quite shaken by it all."
Michael Rule, 41, witnessed the car driving from the scene. He said: "I wondered why the car was driving at that speed."
The female shop worker suffered minor injuries in the incident.
Ernest Jones say they will be offering counselling to all members of staff affected by the robbery.
Police say the men fled the scene in the black Jaguar before abandoning the car at Sainsbury's in Alphington.
The force helicopter was drafted in to help search for the men but as yet, they have not been located.
Detective Inspector Ben Deer told the Echo he believed the robbery was pre-planned.
"This was a high-value break-in involving a prestige brand of watches.
"We are searching nationwide for these offenders and have alerted other forces to them.
"We are appealing for any witnesses to this incident to contact police.
"This was almost definitely a pre-planned robbery and it is possible the offenders may have visited the store and area previously."
A spokeswoman for Ernest Jones said: "Our efforts are currently focused upon ensuring the welfare of our staff and we'll be spending time with each of them to offer them counselling following this robbery.
"All of the stolen items possess serial numbers which means they will be completely traceable if any attempt at resale is made."
Anyone who witnessed the robbery, which happened on Monday, is asked to contact police on 101 quoting log number 157 of February 11 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555111.