Stunned residents feared they had stumbled on an armed bank raid in Ampthill last night after urgent “Help call the police” messages could be heard coming from a G4S security van.
Lights flashed and a klaxon alarm sounded on the armoured vehicle which was parked by a cash machine at the former NatWest Bank in Church Street.
Then a message began repeating: “Help, help … security … vehicle under attack … please call the police.”
Another alarm could be heard going off inside the former bank building.
Startled passers-by dialled 999 and stood staring at the van, wondering if a ruthless gang of gun-toting bank robbers were targeting the historic Georgian market town.
Then a man wearing a security guard’s uniform dashed out of the back door and locked himself in the vehicle.
He could be seen through the windscreen stuffing a cash bag into some sort of container.
A few minutes later a police car with blue lights flashing roared down Bedford Street into the town centre.
But instead of stopping to investigate, it raced off in the opposite direction along Dunstable Street.
It took 15 minutes before another two officers arrived to investigate the van, which was still parked in the same place although the alarm had stopped.
Resident Charlie Garth, who witnessed the incident, said: “It turned out to be a false alarm, but the police couldn’t have known that until they arrived.
“I was amazed when the first police car ignored the van and sped off the other way. Perhaps they had a more serious crime to investigate, like a speeding motorist or somebody parked on double yellow lines.
“But 15 minutes to reach the scene of a possible bank raid seems an awful long time.
“If some evil bad guys like the James Brothers or Bonnie and Clyde had been involved, they’d have cleaned out the ATM and hightailed it out of town long before the cops plodded along.”
A spokesman for G4 said: “Fortunately it was a false alarm and all our crew were fine. Our national control centre was aware it was a false alarm or they would have called the police too.
“But we thank local citizens for their concern and apologise if people were frightened or worried. We realise it could have been very upsetting.”