ARMED robbers fled empty handed from a Bradford convenience store after the shopkeeper mistook them for customers playing a prank and repeatedly refused their demands for cash.

Bharti Patel has run Ash’s Ryecroft Village Store for eight years without crime problems and when two men walked in disguised with balaclava masks and carrying a handgun, she assumed they were locals playing a joke.

So when one put a bag on the till, pointed the gun at her and demanded cash she kept her focus on the customer she was serving and told them to go away.

The gunman repeated the demand several times and each time she gave the same response, eventually closing the till drawer when she had finished serving.

At that point the two criminals appear to have lost their nerve and fled the shop empty handed.

Mrs Patel told the T&A: “I was in the shop serving a customer when two lads walked in, they were aged about 18 to 20 and were wearing balaclavas.

“One of them had a gun, which he was pointing at me and the other had a bag which he put on top of the paypoint machine on the counter.

“The one with the gun said ‘Give us money, give us money’ but I thought it was just customers joking and told him to go away.

“He kept asking and I kept telling him the same thing, but then when I closed the drawer they went out.”

Although she had not realised she was in danger at the time, Mrs Patel said reality of the situation hit home later.

“I was a bit nervous about it afterwards although at the time I hadn’t thought much about it,” she said.

Police had cordoned the shop off with tape while they started their investigation, but the store was open again last night.

A West Yorkshire Police confirmed they were investigating and a force spokesman said: “Police were called to a shop on Landscove Avenue, Bradford, at about 3.45pm this afternoon to a report of a robbery.

“Two men are reported to have entered the store and threatened a female member of staff with what appeared to be a handgun, demanding cash.

“They made off on foot, empty handed in the direction of Pit Hill.

“Officers attended and enquiries are ongoing this evening to find the two men, who were described as white.”

Police are expecting to release more details of their investigation and a full description of the offenders after all witnesses have been interviewed.

Anyone who witnessed the offence is asked to contact Bradford CID on 101 or CrimeStoppers on 0800 555 111.