POLICE are hunting a man who tried to rob a building society by claiming he was carrying a bomb.
Shocked staff raised the alarm after the hooded man with a scarf around his face, walked into Darlington Building Society, in York Road, Hartlepool, and demanded cash.
Armed police quickly swooped on the scene.
But the would-be robber had fled without cash and there was no sign of a bomb.
York Road was sealed off as crowds of shoppers gathered to watch the incident which happened at 10am on Saturday.
A Cleveland Police spokesman said: “A man in a grey hooded top with a scarf around his face entered the building society and demanded cash.
“He then left the premises and made off. Inquiries are ongoing to trace the man.
“There was a report he had a suspicious package.
“Police carried out a search of the premises and nothing was found.”
A shop worker who was very close to the incident heard that the man had threatened staff, saying he had a bomb in his bag and would let it off if they did not hand over cash.
The woman, who does not want to be identified, said: “He said there was a bomb and he would blow it up if he didn’t get the money.
“I heard they set the alarm off and the shutters came down so he didn’t get anything.”
Karen Reynolds, 46, from the Clavering area, and Beverly Short, 49, from near Grange Road, were working just over the road from the building society at Coral Bookmakers when the incident happened.
Beverly said: “The police came in and said there had been a serious, major incident over the road and we had to get out.
“You worry because you don’t know what’s happening, but we got out as quickly as possible.
“You don’t expect something like this to happen. It could have been us.”
All the businesses inside the cordon were effectively closed for more than an hour as customers could not get to them.
Karen said: “We were busy at the time.
“There was quite a few in but everyone left and it got busy as soon as we opened again.”
A trader who works over the road from the building society said he saw the action unfold.
The man, who does not want to be named, said: “I saw this big police car turn up and then I heard all of these other sirens going and then there were four or five more vehicles and about 15 policemen.
“Some of them were armed with weapons by their sides.
“A couple of girls were brought out of the shop and the next thing a policeman went in with a dog by himself before another five or six followed.
“I’ve never seen anything like this and I suppose it’s very rare.”
A spokesperson for Darlington Building Society said on Saturday: “Following an incident this morning at our branch in Hartlepool, we are helping the police with their investigation by providing as much information as possible.
“We are pleased that Darlington Building Society staff and customers were not harmed during the incident, nor was anything stolen.
“We expect the branch to open as usual on Monday.”
Anyone with information about the incident is asked to contact police on the non-emergency number 101.