A MAN armed with a large kitchen knife burst into a petrol station and threatened to kill terrified staff.

Police said the incident happened at the Eastern Avenue service station, Burnley, at 7.10am yesterday.

The man, believed to be a serving soldier, walked into the garage brandishing the weapon and leapt over the counter.

He then threatened to kill the two members of staff who were on duty, police said.

No customers were inside at the time but three motorists on the garage's forecourt who saw what was happening individually called police for help as staff pressed a panic alarm.

Several police cars rushed to the scene as staff talked to the man for five minutes in an attempt to calm him down.

Nobody was hurt in the incident, which lasted for around 20 minutes.

Richard Cox, managing director of The Kay Group, which runs the service station, praised his staff and described the incident as 'a very, very frightening experience'.

He said: ”Our staff were confronted by a young man who jumped over the counter and aggressively threatened them with a large knife.

“As it turns out it was a very unusual situation, all captured on CCTV, but nevertheless very, very frightening to our staff. Their conduct during the whole incident was exemplary. The company applauds their actions.

“Also, the police’s speed of reaction gave great comfort to our staff.”

A 23-year-old man from Burnley was arrested at the scene on suspicion of making threats to kill and affray.

He was taken by police for a mental health assessment and interviewed by detectives late yesterday afternoon.

Mr Cox said the staff remained calm and activated panic buttons which directly called the police to the scene within minutes.

Mr Cox believed theft was not the motive.

"I think it was a plea for help," he said.

He added: "We would also like to thank our customers who made emergency calls on our behalf.”

Inspector Andy Carter, from Pennine CID, said: “We received four calls reporting a young male on Eastern Avenue brandishing a large kitchen knife.

“The last call was from the service station. We were alerted by a panic button there after the person in the shop had been threatened.

“We attended and arrested a 23-year-old man from Burnley on suspicion of making threats to kill and affray.

“He was suffering from emotional difficulties and we are going to give him a mental health assessment while he is in custody.”