Three men who attempted to rob a city centre newsagents fled the scene when the 78-year old proprietor produced a hatchet from behind the counter, a court heard today (Tuesday).
The trio - who at the time of the botched robbery were all residing at the same hostel - were each handed a four-and-a-half year sentence after appearing at Belfast Crown Court.
Glen King (26) and co-accused Stephen James Allison and Kevin Gallagher, who are both 29, admitted targeting the newsagents on the Dublin Road just after 11.30am on November 3, 2015.
Sending the trio to jail, Judge Geoffrey Miller QC commended the bravery of the shopkeeper who was left shaken by the ordeal.
King, from Lavinia Square in Belfast, Allison from Adelaide Avenue in Whitehead and Gallagher, from Herbert Avenue in Larne, were all informed they will serve half their sentence in custody, while the remaining 27 months will be spent in supervised licence upon their release.
After hearing that all three were substance abusers, Judge Miller said: “Addiction to non-prescriptive drugs cannot provide an excuse for what was done that morning.”
The Judge was informed by Crown counsel Philip Henry that at the time of the attempted robbery, all three were residing at the Morning Star hostel in Belfast. Mr Henry said the trio were captured on CCTV leaving the hostel and walking through the city centre before arriving at the newsagents, which sits at the junction with Bruce Street.
They are seen on CCTV walking past the newsagents and peering into the window, before loitering at a nearby electric box.
As the trio stood outside the shop, a postman who was in the newsagents raised suspicions about them to the proprietor. The postman then left the premises, and moments later King, Allison and Gallagher entered.
While King approached the counter armed with a long object which the shopkeeper through was a knife, the other two “effectively stood guard” at the door.
Mtr Henry said that when King told the shopkeeper “hold up time”, the pensioner “deliberately and slowly” walked towards the till before producing a hatchet. At this point, the would-be robbers fled the premises.
All three were subsequently arrested separately, and during interview Allison admitted he was in the shop but initially denied involvement, as did Gallagher. When King was shown the footage, he accepted it was him but claimed he had no recollection of the incident. All three have now accepted their guilt and admitted a single charge of attempted robbery.
The court heard that whilst Allison came before the court with 66 previous convictions, Gallagher and King both have 14 offences on their record.
Barrister Paul Bacon, representing Gallagher, said the shopkeeper’s bravery was in “direct contrast” with the cowardly behaviour on display on the morning of the incident.
Revealing the scourge of being addicted to Diazepam had the potential to ruin Gallagher’s life, Mr Bacon said the father of two has “been clean” since last April. The barrister added: “He has done himself no favours but he is now taking positive steps to redress his behaviour.”
Defence barrister Sean Mullan, acting on behalf of Allison, branded the botched robbery as “ham-fisted and unsophisticated” and paid tribute to the bravery of the shopkeeper.
Mr Mullan spoke of Allison’s “very unsettled” background which included leaving the family home at a young age, which in turn led to a “chaotic lifestyle influenced by alcohol and drugs.” Mr Mullan added his client’s life was peppered with mental health difficulties and episodes of self harm.
King’s barrister Jonpaul Shield spoke of his client’s shame and regret at becoming involved, adding that King “is something of a different character now than he was back in November 2015.
Revealing the father of three had displayed an insight into his offending, Mr Shields said: “I have been asked to apologise to the shopkeeper and to the court for his behaviour.” The barrister said king started using drugs aged 14, but he is now trying to tackle this addiction.
Sending all three men to jail, Judge Miller said: “Clearly this must have been a frightening and traumatic experience for the shopkeeper, who acted with considerable bravery. He was, understandably, left very shaken.”
Judge Miller also recommended that all three men attend an alcohol and drugs counselling programme as part of their period on licence.