THEY were supposed to be forcing their way into a Hampshire ice cream parlour.

In the dead of night and armed with a warrant, a team of bailiffs and a locksmith arrived and began drilling their way through the locks to gain entry.

But within minutes the bungling trio were left red-faced when it became apparent they were in the wrong place – and they’d gone into a pawnbrokers four doors down the road instead.

The drama unfolded in the early hours of yesterday morning and set burglar alarms ringing at the store just down the road from the police station in Shirley, Southampton.

The two debt collectors had turned up at 3.20am, accompanied by a locksmith who drilled through metal shutters of the Cash Generator store and then the front doors.

Last night Kevin Old, the franchisee of the shop, labelled the botched job as “scandalous”.

He told how he had been woken in the early hours of yesterday morning by his panic-stricken assistant manager Scott Swift, who himself had been disturbed because the store’s burglar alarm had gone off.

The papers served to the bailiff company actually related to Marianelli Gelato – further along the busy shopping street.

Yesterday bosses at Alpha Detective Agency who carried out the visit – armed with a forfeiture warrant for the ice cream store – refused to comment on how they got it so wrong.

But Mr Old told the Daily Echo he had been informed that the mix-up stemmed from the bailiffs searching for their target address at 35-37 Shirley High Street by using an Internet map to find it.

Andover Advertiser: Marianelli Gelato in Shirley High Street

He told how Mr Swift had gone to the shop in a taxi early yesterday morning – and he then took a cab from his home in Bournemouth to confront the bailiffs.

Realising the mistake, the locksmith replaced the Cash Generator store locks free of charge before they left the area yesterday morning.

‘Arrogance’ But Mr Old, who has had to pay out £150 for cab fares and for new keys, branded the collectors as “scandalous” and said what happened was “disgraceful and appalling”.

He told the Daily Echo: “Bailiffs are arrogant enough when they are taking people’s possessions, but they were still arrogant when they had made the mistake.

“I was in an absolute panic on the way there. My assistant manager thought it was a scam – it was like something you see on television.”

Mr Old said the men initially claimed the mistake was down to lack of numbers on properties, but added: “They had Googled the address and come up with us.

“Surely if you are entering a premises you do more than one check?”

He also criticised police who stood down after inspecting the bailiffs’ papers before Mr Swift arrived to confirm the address.

“The police left – even though they were at the wrong address. It could easily have been a scam and they could have loaded up a van and driven off.”

Andover Advertiser: The Cash Generator store in Shirley

Alpha Detective Agency refused to comment last night, or confirm whether the intended target has since been visited.

A police spokesman said officers were stood down having been given an incident number and on being informed bailiffs would be attending an address in Shirley High Street to carry out the warrant.

He added: “The manager of the Cash Generator store contacted us later, initially asking us to re-attend, but following a conversation with officers he realised this was a genuine mistake by the bailiff and did not require us.

“He told us he would take the matter up with the bailiffs company directly and get the new keys from them.”