AN armed gang smashed their way into Lakeside in a £1.9m jewellery heist after torching a police van to act as a distraction.

The group of eight Romanian masked men, who were armed with petrol bombs, sledgehammers and crowbars, had also set tyre fires around the perimeter of the West Thurrock shopping centre to hinder the emergency services.

CCTV shows the men forcing their way through locked doors and metal shutters before throwing a haul of Breitling and Cartier watches and a hoard of rings into hold alls, while one stood as look out ready to throw Molotov cocktails should they be disturbed.

It took them just three minutes to raid Ernest Jones before fleeing along the railway lines where they caught hiding in nearby gardens.

The unknown mastermind of the raid at 3am on April 12 is still at large but yesterday at Basildon Crown Court the gang were sentenced to a total of 56 years.

See today's Echo for the full two page story of the dramatic raid.