People in a quiet Belgian town who stole hundreds of thousands of pounds after a robbery went wrong are being threatened with jail if they do not return the money.

The drama started two weeks ago when burglars broke into a home and made off with a safe containing about one million euros (£840,000). Their car was then chased by a motorcycle police officer and the thieves tried to shake him off by throwing the safe in his path as they made their way through a street in Zedelgem. The vault cracked open and a lot of the cash flew out as locals scrambled to get a slice of the stolen loot.

Authorities said the money was spread over an area of about 100 metres, and dozens of people, including children and the elderly, rushed out of their homes or cars to grab a share of the accidental bounty.

One woman even came out of her house with a broom and swept the money inside, according to mayor Patrick Arnou. Police were quickly on the scene and literally plucked cash from the hands of those who were too slow in stashing it away. But now officers want the money back, and the people who pocketed the cash could face two years in jail if they do not do the right thing.