A drunken alcoholic ordered to take five bottles of vodka by an armed robber, was freed on probation on Tuesday, but with the warning that if re-offends he will go straight to jail.
Belfast Crown Court heard that 58-year-old Robert Anderson got caught up in the robbery at an off-licence on March 10 last, while attempting to buy himself some vodka but was thwarted because his credit card refused to sanction any payment.
Prosecution counsel Gareth Purvis said it was a very unusual case in which Anderson, from Legann Street, Belfast, who pleaded guilty to theft of the vodka from the Crumlin Road Wineflare after suggesting to the knife welding robber, “why don’t you take the vodka as well”.
Mr Purvis said that after the bottles of “Glens vodka” were put in a bag, Anderson was told by “the prime mover .... grab that bag”, but that when he refused he was threatened. It was, said the lawyer “fairly opportunistic” for Anderson getting involved in the robbery, and assisting in the way he did.
Defence lawyer Michael Duffy said the whole thing was captured on CCTV and bore out what staff say happened and what Anderson had said. The barrister said while the robbery was taking place, Anderson was still trying to pay, but he was so drunk he “did not have the wit to extricate himself ... he didn’t realise what was going on”.
Mr Duffy said that what occurred was “totally out of character for him” and while drink had cost him his family and job, “this has been a wake-up call for him”. And that since the incident he has begun to put his life back in order and is working with his family again.
Freeing him Judge Geoffrey Miller QC told Anderson if he’d been convicted of the more serious crime of robbery he would be going to prison for a very lengthy period, but that “the case against you is very different and clearly you are a man in need of support”.
However, in ordering him to complete 80 hours community service, in addition his 18 months on probation, Judge Miller told Anderson he wanted to stress to him that such an order “is a direct alternative to prison .... break it and you will go to prison ... the choice is yours.
“It’s time for you to pay something back,” concluded Judge Miller.