A GANG of thieves broke into a coal merchant's and stole three vehicles loaded with 14 tonnes of coal.

They also stole wood burning stoves and fuel from A & B Milligan Ltd, in Plumbe Street, Burnley.

The premises, in a former tannery, were targetd at around 6.30pm on Wednesday.

It is thought they entered from the back of the premises along the Leeds Liverpool canal and smashed a padlocked gate open.

They loaded sacks of coal on to two Leyland Daf wagons and a Ford Transit van before escaping.

The vehicles seen leaving the compound on CCTV at around 7.45pm.

One of the wagons was later recovered by police in Rishton.

The ‘excel’ type coal was in distinctive cream-coloured bags marked with the firm's name.

Stuart Milligan, 51, whose family has run the business for more than 100 years, urged anyone who is offered the stolen stock to call police.

He said: "It’s just caused a lot of hassle and aggrevation, having to sort the out insurance.

“It was about 6.15am in the morning. We came and I saw the lock was broken off the gate. I thought, ‘we’ve been turned over again’.

“The police came, but they found nothing. They’d tidied up and it’s a dirty coal yard.

“Nobody saw anything. They broke in through the fence from the canal.

“One hundred and fifty folk come through here a day. It wouldn’t be hard to weigh the job up.

“When the police had taken some pictures we tidied up and just got on with the day.”

A Leyland Daf, with the registration 280 JKY, was later recovered but the whereabouts of the offenders and the stolen goods are still unknown.

The Milligan family have been involved in the delivery of coal for over 100 years, and have been on their current Plumbe Street site for 20 years.

This is the first break-in that the firm has suffered in 13 years.

Stuart’s father Albert was awarded the title of ‘Coalman of the Year’ in 1996 by the Coal Merchants Federation.

In 1995 he bid for a Guinness World Record to recognise the business as the first fully undercover coal yard in the UK.

Stuart now runs the family business with his wife Claire, while brother Tony delivers from the site as an independant coal merchant.

The stolen Ford Transit van has the registration W749 NEF. The Leyland Daf 45 wagon is blue and sign-written with the words ‘A. Lockett & Son, Littleborough.’ It has the registration plate 5336 YAD.

A police spokeswoman said: “The offenders approached the locked, secure business and forced open a padlock on a metal gate and gained entry.

“They loaded three trucks with pallets of coal and wood burners before driving off. They have taken a Ford Transit van and two Leyland lorries.

“The bags of coal are distinctive, they have ‘Milligans’ written on them.

“Unfortunately the businesses next door haven’t seen or heard anything.

“Police are making inquires, but we are appealing for anyone who saw or heard anything suspicious at the time, or who has any information to call police on 101 or call Crimestoppers, anonymously, on 0800 555 111.”