FEARLESS burglars who forced their way into a Winsford factory in a daring raid were scotched - when their getaway van got stuck under a bridge.

The gang smashed shutters to break into a marble kitchen top manufacturer.

In an elaborate break-in, the intruders, wearing gloves, dismantled security cameras and loaded expensive, heavy specialist equipment into a company van.

But their intricate robbery was foiled - when their getaway vehicle hit a railway bridge in the early hours of the morning and the roof got wedged.

An emergency recovery crew turned up to tow the damaged van away before the thieves had a chance to empty their loot.

They only had time to grab a few laptops and ran off before police arrived.

Michael Gilani, director of Excel Granite & Marble Limited, of Bradford Road, said: "The van got stuck under a bridge.

"It was a bit of a funny situation because someone from the caravan park in Moulton reported it and a recovery team came straight away. The burglars didn't have a chance to empty the equipment into another vehicle."

The robbery could have put the future of the six-year-old company at risk.

Italian-born Mr Gilani said: "It was going to be a disaster for us as the specialist machinery they stole was worth more than £40,000. It included a £20,000 laser template machine and other expensive equipment.

"We would have been in a big struggle."

The factory employs eight people and supplies granite, quartz and marble kitchen worktops and onyx slabs.

The burglary on December 29 was only discovered when staff turned up for work on New Year's Eve.

"We didn't know until we opened up the factory and found the machinery gone," said Mr Gilani. "The office was upside down and there was paperwork everywhere. One of our vans was missing.

"The strange thing is there were boxes of expensive spirits we had received as gifts from suppliers, like Jack Daniels and Smirnoff yet all they took was a box of Red Bull."

Forensic teams examined the wrecked van and most of the stolen equipment was recovered with the exception of some laptops and other items worth around £3,000.

"When I opened the back door of the van and found all the stuff it was a big relief," added Mr Gilani. "We managed to get back 90 per cent of the goods," added Mr Gilani, who doesn't normally close the factory over Christmas but had decided to take a break. "The van worth around £12,000 has been written off. It has a squashed roof but it will be recovered by insurance.

"We have now installed a new sophisticated security system."

A police spokesman said: "The van attempted to get through a tunnel bridge toward Moulton, off Bradford Road and got jammed against the roof.

"The break in at the factory is believed to have happened between Saturday, December 29 and 10.40am the following morning.

"The van was reported as being in collision with a bridge at 1am on December 30."

Anyone with information should call the police on 101 quoting incident number IML282859.