MASKED thieves caused chaos when they attempted an audacious armed jewellery heist in the centre of Glasgow.
The four robbers carried out the daylight smash-and-grab theft in Argyll Arcade, off Buchanan Street, armed with hammers and axes.
Shocked eyewitnesses saw the attackers knock over a security guard and hit him with a baseball bat before they started smashing shop windows at several jewellers.
They stole some watches from Rox but failed in bids to rob Mappin and Webb, Laing the Jeweller and Lewis Grant in the raid, which began just before 1pm.
The busy city centre arcade became filled with smoke as an alarm on one shop was triggered.
The robbers were described as wearing hoods, balaclavas and dressed in dark clothing.
A number of people in Buchanan Street recorded the robbery using camera phones, capturing striking images of the robbers silhouetted against the smoke as they attempted to smash their way into shop windows.
Footage also appeared on YouTube showing one of the arcade’s top-hatted concierges trying to direct members of public out of the building away from the curtain of smoke that had enveloped the corridor.
The thieves emerge from the clouds suddenly and charge out into Buchanan Street, shouting and swearing at stunned passersby.
It is believed they made off in a white car. A Volkswagen Golf found abandoned in St James Road in the Townhead area of the city is being examined by forensic officers.
One witness, David McCourt, who caught the robbery on his camera, described the scene. He said: “Myself and two colleagues were walking up Buchanan Street when we heard what sounded like a fire alarm coming from the Argyll Arcade.
“As we passed the opening to the arcade, we noticed these terrified-looking shoppers running away from the arcade.
“We looked in to see what was happening and noticed the arcade’s smoke clouds had been activated and what looked like four or five figures dressed in black emerging from the clouds.
“They were wearing balaclavas to hide their faces and began charging at the security, brandishing baseball bats and hatchets, while some of them tried to break the reinforced glass as they began to escape.
“When they were unable to get at any of the merchandise, they fled, with one of them shouting ‘I’ll f****** kill you all’.”
Others took to social media to relate what they had seen. One eyewitness, Ann-Marie, tweeted: “Got screamed at off [sic] four balaclava-ed men at Argyll Arcade. They would shoot me if I didn’t move.”
Calum Macaulay also tweeted: “Was about to enter Fraser’s on Buchanan St earlier and alarms going off and blokes in balaclavas running from jewellery heist.”
The arcade was locked down throughout the afternoon, and an area of Buchanan Street outside it cordoned off, while shop staff were questioned and forensic officers examined the scene.
The arcade houses more than 30 jewellers and diamond merchants. It was the scene of another robbery in September last year, when a thief made off with a watch and ring worth more than £10,000 from Rox Jewellers.
Officers are speaking to witnesses and gathering CCTV images to establish more details on the four men responsible.
Police said the four suspects were described a abouts 5ft 8in tall and of slim build.