Thieves who attempted to steal thousands of pounds-worth of cigarettes from a forecourt in central England were forced to flee empty-handed after they were thwarted by the store’s automated tobacco dispenser.

The gang cut into the store’s roof space in the middle of the night before dropping down through the ceiling panels and heading for the gantry, where more than £6,000-worth of tobacco was housed.

However, despite their heavy-duty equipment including a large pinch bar, they were unable to get past the steel doors of the store’s Navarra Retail Systems tobacco dispenser, fitted when the display ban came into force last year.

CCTV footage of the burglary shows the criminals repeatedly hitting the machine before panicking and fleeing the scene after a few minutes.

“Any store break-in is horrible, but this one could have been so much worse if it wasn’t for the automated dispenser,” the store owner, who did not wish to be named, told Convenience Store.

“In the end the thieves got away with a few bottles of wine and also threw one across the store. It was a pain to clean, but could have been worse.”

The store’s insurers are currently assessing the possibility of reducing its insurance premium following the foiled attack.

The gantry is linked to the store’s epos system and quickly dispenses a customer’s tobacco brand of choice once staff have selected it on the till. Systems such as this are expected to prove particularly useful once plain packaging regulations come into force.

Automated dispensers can also be fitted with media screens to advertise categories such as electronic cigarettes.

A 1.2m-wide Navarra automated tobacco dispenser holds 97 SKUs and can be fully installed for just over £6,000, or lease purchased for £30 per week.