Store owners in the West Midlands have been hit by a spate of break-ins targeting their cigarette gantries.

At least six stores on the Dudley Road running from Walsall to Wolverhampton are known to have been victims, including one store which was hit twice in a week.

Traders suspect that a single gang is responsible for all the incidents as in each case a hydraulic jack is used to force up the shutters on the outside of the store before the thieves break in and scoop tobacco stock into a quilt cover, escaping to a waiting car. Because of the speed of the raid the thieves are in and out in less than four minutes they have been able to leave the scene before police can respond to any burglar alarm.

Surinder Singh of Booze Corner in Willenhall lost £9,000-worth of stock in one raid. He told C-Store: "Four men in balaclavas broke in and cleaned me out of tobacco. They damaged the shutters and the door it took me three days to clear up the mess."

To avoid being targeted again, Surinder has ordered a bespoke gantry made from rigid steel costing £2,000. "At least this way I'll have peace of mind," he said.