CALLOUS criminals who ram-raided two convenience stores within minutes of each other on Sunday night - causing almost £20,000 worth of damage in the process - have been sent a clear message that ‘they won’t win’ after one of the stores opened its doors back to the public earlier this week.

At around 9.20pm on Sunday night, South Yorkshire Police responded to reports of an attempted burglary at Bargain Booze on Laithes Lane, New Lodge, and then six minutes later at the Cross Lane Express in Royston.

It is reported a white Ford Transit van had attempted to reverse into and gain access to both shops by ramming them.

Both attempts were unsuccessful and the offenders made off in a red-coloured SUV, leaving the van - which had been stolen earlier - at the scene.

The owner of the Royston store, 36-year-old Jee Mahalingam, told the Chronicle the criminals couldn’t have targeted him at a worse time.

“On Sunday at 9pm we closed the shop and around 20 minutes later we saw a highway maintenance van trying to reverse back inside the shop by ram-raiding it.

“One of our neighbours and the alarm company called me when I was at home.

“I was in shock, unable to process the enormity of what had just happened.

“I started rushing to the shop, panicking.

“This should never happen to anyone - we are just a small corner shop in the village.

“During the cost-of-living crisis, this has only made the situation worse.”

Jee estimated the damage will cost him around £18,000 to put right - but he’s not let the cold-hearted criminals win, and opened back to the public on Wednesday.

“We’ve tried to get the urgent work done and we’re waiting for some insurance claims to start on the issues,” he added.

“The cost of the damage is around £18,000 as the fridge compartments have been completely damaged because of the two heavy hits by the van.

“We managed to open on Wednesday after two days of work - both day and night - and we’re now waiting for supplies and a replacement fridge.

“Once we’ve received them we will have to close again for a day or two whilst we get things going again.”

Jee said the community spirit since he opened the store has been heartwarming - and he issued a thanks to all those who have supported him during this tough time.

“Our community helped us since day one of the shop opening until now,” he added.

“The neighbours were there and helped when it happened - they’ve also been helping to bring the shop back to a running condition.

“We would like to thank everyone for giving us this opportunity to keep our service going with a smile.

“We’re very proud of our community.”

Those responsible are still on the run, and the police force are urging residents to get in touch with any information they may have.

A police spokesperson said: “An investigation is currently ongoing and if you have any information that could assist officers with their investigation, you can pass this on via our online live chat, our online portal or by calling 101.

“Please quote incident number 848 or 855 of December 10, 2023 when you get in touch.”