SOME of the most savage Wigan armed robberies of recent years are thought to be linked, police have revealed.
Detectives say that the same gang of violent raiders are thought responsible for at least 11 Greater Manchester raids - mostly in or near Wigan borough - and which have netted them almost £1m.
They first struck at Platt Bridge Post Office on May 21, 2004, when they forced a security driver to open cash boxes.
Later raids include:
n Halifax building society on Billinge Main Street on December 21, 2005, where staff were threatened with extreme violence;
n Lloyds TSB in Standish Market Street on June 29, 2006, when a customer was taken hostage as she waited with her seven-year-old son, leaving the boy stranded;
n Halifax building society on Market Street, Atherton, on November 14, 2006, during which a staff member was dragged by her hair and than attacked with a machete;
n Lloyds TSB on Market Street, Westhoughton, was targeted on November 16, 2007, which also saw a member of staff dragged by their hair and attacked with a machete; and
n NatWest on Warrington Road, Culcheth on December 18, 2007, in which a cashier was grabbed and a customer threatened with violence.
The gang is also wanted for the notorious raid on the Barclay’s bank in Horwich during which a shotgun was fired at a police van, injuring an officer.
Police say they believe the gang of up to 12 members to be from the Leigh area and associated with an organised crime syndicate from Merseyside. It is built around two men who go into the banks and strike fear into the hearts of staff and customers.
The first is a “calm and calculated” man who carries a shotgun while the second is a “violent loose cannon” who wields a machete in his left hand.
Det Chief Insp Tony Creely, of GMP’s Robbery Unit, said: “This gang has used violence irrespective of whether staff are compliant or not. One robber, with a shotgun, is calm and calculated. The other, with a machete is erratic, violent, and a loose cannon. What concerns us most is the impact on staff and customers due to the violence used.
“Before the robberies have been carried out violence has also been used to steal cars for use by the gang. The police officer shot at was lucky to escape serious injury when he dived into the foot well of his vehicle as the shot was fired.”
Police say the last raid was in June 2008 - but warned last night the gang could strike again.
Mr Creely addedd: “Money taken is just one element of massive criminal networks. There will be a team to steal cars, one to do the robberies and then cash will pass to a higher tier of organised crime to be used to buy drugs.”
The number of armed bank robberies in the region has fallen dramatically in the last three years due to the jailing of key robbers and investment by banks in extra security. Anyone with information can call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555111.