Axe-wielding raiders who carried out a brazen lunchtime smash and grab robbery at an Ilkley jewellers remained on the run last night.

Four men dressed in blue overalls and black balaclava masks struck at Lister Horsfall in Brook Street in full view of frightened shoppers last Thursday shortly after 1.30pm.

They used axes to smash holes in the protective glass before grabbing watches from the window display.

At one point one of the robbers used the axe to threaten a policewoman who approached the scene, according to a witness.

The gang then sped off in the silver Honda Civic, which had been driven on to the pavement in front of the shop, down Brook Street and Railway Road, narrowly missing a car and pedestrians.

The getaway car, which was driven by a fifth gang member, was quickly abandoned and set alight in Hampshire Close, Ilkley.

One witness, who saw the raid from her car and called police, said: “It really shook me up. I thought ‘why are they parked on the pavement?’ and then they all came out.

“They were wearing blue jumpsuits and they had black coverings over their heads.”

A man who witnessed the robbery said one of the gang walked towards an approaching policewoman and threatened her with the axe he was carrying.

“He walked at her, it looked like an axe he had, and he raised it. Nobody should tackle them,” he said.

Another witness, who did not want to be named, said: “They just sped off down the pavement, they could have killed somebody.”

Lister Horsfall’s managing director Nicholas Horsfall praised the actions of his staff who stopped the robbers escaping with a big haul by activating the security shutters.

Mr Horsfall said: “The quick thinking of the staff managed to avert a major loss. The shutters went down, the blinds went down and they were stripping the stock from behind the window to stop it being taken.”

Mr Horsfall added: “We have systems in place to try to slow them down. I don’t think it is as bad a loss as it could have been.”

But he admitted he was surprised the robbers had managed to break through the toughened glass which was “as bandit proof as possible”.

He said the three or four staff on duty were uninjured but were shaken by the incident.

Mr Horsfall added: “It is really frustrating that this is the world that we are living in and there is nothing you can do to deter them.”

Detective Inspector Ryan Bragg, of Bradford District CID, who is leading the investigation, said: “First of all, we would like to thank the public for coming forward with information about this incident.

“We believe that the vehicle the offenders used was stolen from Merseyside in December and has possibly been stored locally since then, so we would be interested to hear from anyone who saw a new-shaped silver Honda Civic in their area before last Thursday. After dumping and setting this alight in Hampshire Close approximately 20 minutes later, the occupants escaped in a white vehicle. This is believed to have been a van, but we would like to know more information about this vehicle and where it went.

“We would also appeal to anyone who took pictures or video of the incident to contact Bradford District Reactive CID on 101 and pass on this footage, as it may prove vital in our investigation.

“Anyone else with information which may help the investigation is asked to either contact CID on the above number, or ring Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555111.”

It is the third time in two years the jewellers has been targeted by armed robbers – it was previously raided in June 2012 and September 2011.