Eyewitnesses described how people “screamed and shouted” when a car was driven through Congleton’s pedestrianised Bridge Street on Saturday, when it was lined with stalls.
It happened at around 4pm when the route was busy with shoppers during the monthly makers’ market – although no one was injured.
Two 16-year-old boys and a 15-year-old girl were later arrested on suspicion of theft of a motor vehicle and dangerous driving, and were released on conditional bail.
Police confirmed that it was not terror-related and revealed that prior to the incident, the driver of the car was asked to pull over on Mountbatten Way but it failed to stop and turned onto Market Street and then Bridge Street. Police did not give chase.
Police are appealing for witness to come forward and are keen to hear from anyone who might have cctv or video footage.
Sheena Hilditch was with husband Steven when she heard a loud noise heading towards her: “We were outside Chatwin’s when we heard it screeching up the street and there was a burning smell. My husband threw me up against the wall and pushed me into the doorway.
“Within seconds, it was going past us. People were screaming and shouting. My husband ran up the street and was shouting for people to move out of the way. I’d somehow managed to dial 999 on my phone and pass it to someone else.”
She said that her legs gave way out of fear and she had to be taken into Boots Opticians to be calmed down.
Mr Hilditch said: “I was shouting ‘move, move’, until my throat was hoarse. But it’s worth a sore throat if it saved a few lives.”
James Cheffings was working at Empire Boutique on High Street when he heard “tires screeching”.
He said: “We thought, bloody hell, what was that? It was around the time the market usually closes, so I genuinely thought it was one of the traders pulling something down that was a bit too heavy.”
Congleton Town Coun Kay Wesley was at the White Ribbon campaign stall on Saturday afternoon.
She said: “People were a bit frightened to see a car on the pedestrian area, but I think the tabloids have blown it out of all proportion.”
Insp Jim Adams, of Congleton local policing unit said: “I understand the concern that this incident is likely to have caused in the local area and I would like to reassure residents that this is not being treated as a terrorist incident.
“We will continue to have increased patrols in the area and I would urge anyone with any concerns to speak to an officer.
“The three teenagers who were arrested in relation to the incident have now been released on conditional bail while we conduct further enquiries.”
Insp Adams continued: “As part of our investigation we would like to hear from anyone who witnessed the incident and saw the occupants fleeing the vehicle.
“The same goes for anyone with any cctv or video footage of the incident.”
Anyone with information in relation to the incident is asked to contact Cheshire Police on 101 quoting IML 1422052. Information can also be reported online at cheshire.police.uk/tell-us.