A SHOCKED coal merchant has spoken out after he was robbed by a gang of masked raiders.
Robert Maddison, who owns R Maddison Fuels on the Thornley Crossings Industrial Estate at Shotton Colliery, told the Mail about his ordeal, in which he said the robbers threatened him with a baseball bat and fled with 7,000 takings.
The 51-year-old was working at the coal depot, which he has run for 25 years, when the men burst in.
It is not the first time Mr Maddison has been a robbery victim.
In 1991, he was at home in bed when he was stabbed and beaten by armed robbers who stole 200 from him.
The men were later jailed for around eight years at Newcastle Crown Court.
Speaking about the recent incident, which took place on December 10, last year, the Shotton dad-of-four said: "It was about 2.50pm and I was at the bottom of the yard.
"Someone came in and I thought they wanted to be served.
"I walked towards them, but three people with balaclavas and a baseball bat came out of nowhere and demanded the money.
"I just gave them the money and they left. It left me quite shaken up, and they need to be caught."
The three men left the yard in a dark-coloured Ford Focus which had been parked nearby.
The vehicle fled with its boot open, police say possibly to disguise the number plate.
Police have released details of three men they say are suspected of being involved in the robbery.
The man with the baseball bat is described as being large, 6ft tall or more and very heavily built, like a "body-builder" type-build, and dressed in dark clothing.
The other two were around 5ft 8in tall, of medium build and dressed in dark clothing.
Detectives say a black BMW Compact and an old-style white Ford Focus estate car were seen leaving the industrial estate as the robbery was taking place.
Police say it is possible that the people in those cars saw the robbers or their getaway car and are urging them to come forward.
Police would also like to speak to a man who was in the coal yard at the time of the offence.
Anyone with information is asked to call Peterlee CID on 0345 6060365 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.