VIOLENT gang targeting a Crewe industrial estate got away with cigarettes believed to be worth up to £1m after hijacking a lorry.
The 41-year-old driver was threatened with a hammer and bundled into a car in a terrifying ordeal, before being dumped by three masked men who took his truck.
He was driving a white Ford Iveco HGV carrying cigarettes from Weston Road tobacco company Gallaher's Ltd when he was forced to stop by a white van on Friday at 5.15am.
Detectives believe it could be the work of a gang of men from Liverpool or Manchester who are targeting Crewe.
Detective Sergeant Chris Myers, of Crewe's Special Investigation Unit, said: 'The lorry and the van were involved in a collision in Weston Road. Three men wearing balaclavas got out of the van and one smashed the lorry driver's window, giving them entry to the cab.
'The lorry was then hijacked and driven to a small dirt road off the Haslington Bypass where the high-value load was transferred into a white Transit and a white box van.
'The driver, who is from Stoke-on-Trent, was bundled into a purple or maroon Ford Mondeo-type vehicle and driven to Haydock in Lancashire where he was then released.
'He was badly shaken but fortunately unharmed. He managed to raise the alarm at 8am after running to a nearby house.'
The lorry was abandoned and set alight. It was found at 6.15am after a passer-by saw smoke near the Haslington Bypass.
Friday's hijack is the latest in a number of attacks on Crewe lorries in the past year.
The windscreen of an HGV travelling from Weston Road in Crewe towards the M6 motorway was hit twice by a blast from a shotgun in May.
A driver was also involved in a similar incident to the latest attack in October last year.
Detectives believe the incidents are linked and are appealing for information.
They want to speak to anyone who saw the Ford Iveco lorry and the white Transit van either at the industrial estate or near the Haslington Bypass.
Gallaher's spokeswoman Michelle McEwan yesterday said: 'We can confirm a serious incident took place and Gallaher cigarettes and other items were stolen but we cannot comment further.'
* Anyone with information is asked to call the Special Investigation Unit on 01270 500222 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555111.