THOUSANDS of pounds worth of trade secrets have been stolen in suspected "industrial espionage" raids on a high-tech company.

Bosses at VBi Triscan Systems, Harwood Street, Blackburn, have now put up a "substantial" reward for information about the crimes.

Thieves targeted the fuel management company's main operational servers and stole a number of laptop computers containing company information.

VBi Triscan Systems employs 80 people and is market leader in the provision of hardware and software for fuel management solutions such as pay-at-the-pump petrol payment terminals.

Company bosses are concerned that customers may be approached by unauthorised individuals or companies offering support on VBi owned software and products.

Marketing manager Barry McLeod said: "The laptops were worth thousands but in terms of intellectual property the potential damage to the business is a hell of a lot more. We have got back-up procedures across our IT department which means there is no threat whatsoever to the business.

"But the theft involved hard drives from some of our servers which had the potential to create some major issues for the business and its customers; however, it would be difficult for the thieves or recipients of the material to gain any useful advantage or information from them. It's like taking a few pieces of a jigsaw.

"We are not ruling out industrial espionage. We are a niche company and don't have many competitors."

The incidents happened between Tuesday, March 27 and Saturday, March 31.

Managing director, Simon Hollingsworth, added: "As a market leader in the provision of fuel management and retail solutions software we are a prime target for this kind of activity due to the value of the products that it has in the market place and in those currently under development.

"The company is taking this matter very seriously indeed and all staff including former employees are in the process of assisting the criminal investigation team with their inquiries."

A police spokesman said: "Police were called to the business on two separate occasions. We are currently investigating the incidents where the matter of industrial espionage will be looked into as part of the investigation."

Anyone with information about the incident is asked to contact Blackburn Police on 01252 51212 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.