AN armed knife gang targeted children, stealing phones and forcing them to reset them in Southend High Street.

The three men made threats during the robbery in broad daylight just metres from police officers and outside a shopping centre.

Distressed mum Karen Kappes has warned people to take care after her 15-year-old son was one of the victims.

She told the Echo the men claimed to be part of a gang who were looking for victims near The Royals Shopping Centre.

According to Ms Kappes the boys were sitting on a bench.

The men approached them from behind and grabbed hold of them.

They demanded the boys hand over the phones.

They threatened to stab them, warned them they had knives and ordered the teenagers to enter their passwords and “factory reset” the phones - presumably so they could then access them and steal more money.

One of the men then decided he liked the look of one of the boy’s coats - so they stole that as well.

They reportedly told the teens that they were part of a gang from London.

Mrs Kappes said one of his friends managed to break away from the thugs and raise the alarm.

She said: “They had only been sitting on the bench for about ten minutes, when these guys crept up behind them and grabbed them.

“They were throwing a lot of punches forcing them to hand over what they had, I think they were also after their bikes.

“Luckily, one of my son’s friends managed to get away and run around the corner to raise the alarm.

“He managed to get the attention of a community policing team, who came charging around the corner and scared them away.

“I had a call from them saying they were taking care of him and they got him on a train to come home.”

The violent attack may have been committed by a drugs gang with members operating in south Essex including Southend.

The gangs come to the town to recruit child dealers, sell class A drugs and, it appears, rob children.

Mr Kappes, who lives in Rayleigh, said her son and his friends were “deeply shaken” by the attack but all of them had thankfully come away without serious physical injury.

She has urged people to ensure their children are vigilant and aware of their surroundings when visiting Southend during the Christmas break.

She added: “It’s very distressing, but he’s okay.

“I’m glad he wasn’t hurt, but this should be a warning to all kids going to Southend to be vigilant.

“It’s really not the phone call you want to get from police the week before Christmas.”

The Echo contacted Essex Police to find out what was being done to find the gang following the incident at 3pm on Thursday.

Anyone with information call police on 101.