THREE masked robbers burst into a Little Sutton newsagents and forced an employee to open a safe at gunpoint.
A delivery man who unwittingly arrived as the robbery was in progress was forced into the manager's office and held hostage until the raiders fled.
The drama at McColls in Chester Road began at about 5.20am on Sunday when the male employee, who is not being named, arrived to open the shop.
Detective Inspector Steve Gould, head of Ellesmere Port CID, says the raiders struck just after the man had turned off the alarm and was bringing in the papers.
He said: 'A gun was pointed at him by one of the men and he was ordered to open the safe, which he did. The offenders then stole a quantity of cash and mobile phone cards before making their escape.
'The shop worker and the delivery man, who unfortunately turned up with papers as the robbery was taking place, were left shocked and distressed by what was a nasty attack. The offenders made their escape in a blue Cavalier, which was driven by a fourth offender.'
He added: 'This Cavalier was stolen from Waverton, Chester between November 12-13 and was later found abandoned in North Road, Ellesmere Port. We also have a sighting of the car in Black Lion Lane shortly before the robbery.
'We now want to hear from anyone who saw the robbers make their escape, or might know where the Cavalier, registration number H331 HJA, had been between the time it was stolen and the robbery.'
DI Gould says he is also keen to hear from one witness who saw the men run off after ditching the car in North Road.
He said: 'Someone went to the security office at Vauxhall's and said he had just seen four men run away from a car and to call the police.
'We don't know who this witness is and would appeal to him to contact us as soon as possible. He might have vital evidence.'
The robber carrying the handgun is described as a white male, 5ft 11ins tall, of medium build, wearing a black balaclava, zip-up navy blue jacket, tracksuit bottoms and dirty white trainers.
The second offender is described as a white male, 6ft 3ins tall, of plump build, dressed in a black balaclava, dark green zip-up jacket and dark tracksuit bottoms.
The third man police are seeking is a white male, 5ft 9ins tall, dressed in a blue zip-up jacket, dark track suit bottoms and a black balaclava.
* Witnesses are asked to call Ellesmere Port CID on 01244 613031 or CrimeStoppers in complete confidence on 0800 555111.