THE owners of a bakery have been left counting the costs after thieves smashed their way into their premises, hours after they closed for the weekend.

Paul Hope and Colin Jepson, who own The Bank Top Bakery in Darlington, said they had been left in a state of shock after thieves made off with a 'significant' amount of money on Saturday.

The bakery on Victoria Road opened in June 2017 after Mr Jepson, a former Taxi driver from Middlesbrough, wanted to "fulfil his lifelong" ambition in running a bakery.

The independent trader, which said it had witnessed its highest number of customers only last week, said the pair were due to hold a buffet for two funerals later this week.

The Northern Echo:

Paul Hope, left, and Colin Jepson when the bakery opened in 2017

Mr Hope told The Northern Echo: "We believe it happened at some point between 2pm and 6pm.

"We closed at 2pm on Saturday – later we had a phone call in the evening from someone who said 'I think something is going on'."

Mr Hope, who said thieves managed to 'rip' the security bars from a window before making off with the shop's safe and fully-cashed till, said a large amount of money had been taken.

The Northern Echo:

The window bars have been smashed off to allow entry

He said: "It's clear it has been done in the middle of the day, they must have been in the property a while to do what they have done.

"The safe has been smashed off the wall, they've gone to one other place, the till which instead of emptying it, they've taken the whole thing."

The Northern Echo:

The crime scene after police dusted the area for fingerprints

Mr Hope said the thefts would undoubtedly affect their takings for December, but said the pair vowed to fulfil its customers' orders on time.

He said: "It's definitely going to hurt us – we're only a small business.

"We've got four buffets booked this week, part of the money stolen was the buffet's payment, two are funerals."

Mr Hope said the pair had resorted to using money from their own bank accounts in order to continue trading and as a temporary measure to replace lost funds.

The Northern Echo:

The till was taken from the Victoria Road shop

He said: We've been using money from our personal accounts to make sure we've got enough to get this week started."

On Sunday, Mr Hope and Jepson spent much of the day cleaning up the bakery in time for its reopening on Monday.

Mr Hope said: "We've got two extra staff members to pay for, we've got bills to pay, we need to resume so that we can both pay our staff and our bills."

Anyone with information is asked to contact Durham Police using the non-emergency number 101.