TWO armed robbers managed to escape from police following a chase.

Officers in a patrol car pursued the pair into the Intack area of Blackburn after the men drove the wrong way around a roundabout.

They caught up with them and chased the thieves on foot across gardens but the robbers eluded them.

The balaclava-clad men had 10 minutes earlier held up the Co-op, in Whalley New Road, Blackburn armed with a lump hammer.

As they sped towards the motorway in a grey Vauxhall Astra they were spotted by officers in Whitebirk Drive, who immediately pursued them.

The getaway driver then appeared to panic and turned the wrong way around Whitebirk roundabout before heading off towards Intack.

DI Jill Johnston said: “Officers were sat at the traffic lights when they noticed a car approaching them at high speed.

“When the driver spotted the officers, he sped past them and drove the wrong way around the roundabout.

“The officers assessed the situation and decided it was not safe to take the same route. They decided it would be a danger to public safety.”

After negotiating the roundabout the officers lost sight of the car but headed towards Burnley Road.

The getaway car, which had been stolen in Manchester, was then found abandoned in Monmouth Road, Intack.

As officers pulled up, they spotted two men running away and with the help of the police helicopter chased them into the rear garden of a house before losing them again.

During a search of the surrounding area, officers discovered a laundry bag in nearby Hereford Road believed to have been used by the robbers to carry out stolen cigarettes.The men had swooped on the supermarket as staff were cashing up around 9.50pm on Thursday.

Dressed in balaclavas, gloves and armed with a hammer the men forced their way behind the counter helping themselves to around £500 from the tills and cigarettes from the display.

A female shop assistant and the male manager, in the store, were unhurt in the attack, but were ‘badly shaken’ by the incident.

A man who had been leaving the shop as the robbers arrived said: “I was literally stepping out of the shop when two men pushed passed me.

“I had my young son with me so I came away from the shop and got in my car so I could call the police.

“I could see they had a lump hammer and that they were just helping themselves to money.

“I sat and watched them come out of the shop and go behind a garage nearby where they had parked up.

“The whole situation was really frightening.”

Police have now launched a manhunt to track down the robbers.

Officers are also trawling CCTV from the Co-op and are appealing for any witnesses who saw the men around the shop and near Whitebirk.

DI Johnston said: “Even though the robbers did not use or threaten to use the weapon they were carrying, this was a very frightening incident for the members of staff involved.

“This was an armed robbery and there was nothing to say they wouldn’t have used the hammer if they had needed to.

“For those involved this was a nasty crime.

“I appeal to anyone who saw the anything suspicious outside the shop before the robbery or after to contact police on 101.”

The first man was described as 6ft, of stocky build, wearing a grey hooded sweatshirt and dark tracksuit bottoms.

The second man was around 5ft 11 ins tall, of slim build, wearing jeans and a dark coloured jacket.

A spokesperson for The Co-operative Food said: “On Thursday 3 May, at around 10pm, our Co-operative Food store on Whalley New Road in Brownhill was raided by two men armed with a hammer. A quantity of cash and cigarettes were stolen.

“There were no customers in the store at the time. The two members of staff who were working were badly shaken but unhurt.

“CCTV footage has been given to the police who are investigating. As with any incident such as this, we would appeal for anyone with information to come forward.”