A west Belfast man who was arrested after being identified on Facebook as the culprit who robbed a local shop at gunpoint has been handed an eight-year sentence.
Gerard Bracken had taken heroin before making an “impulsive decision” to rob the Mace Store on Caffrey Avenue in Andersonstown last February whilst armed with a gun and hammer.
The 23-year old, from Fruithill Park, was told on Friday he will spend four years of the sentence in prison, followed by four years on licence when he is released from jail.
Belfast Crown Court heard that the young shop assistant was left terrified by the ordeal, has had to leave her job as a result and now suffers panic attacks.
Bracken targeted the Mace store at 9.25pm on February 27 last year. Wearing a woollen hat and sunglasses, he produced a shotgun and demanded the shop assistant hand over cash from the till.
He then walked behind the counter and ordered her to fill a bag with cigarettes and tobacco, and became agitated that she was not going quickly enough.
She had the weapon – which could have been an imitation firearm – pointed at her the whole time, and she also noticed Bracken had a hammer in his pocket.
Her ordeal came to an end when two customers came into the shop.
She told them she was being robbed, which prompted Bracken to flee.
He was chased by one of the customers but escaped.
The manager of the store took a still image of the robbery from his CCTV footage, put the image on Facebook and asked if anyone knew his identity.
Several members of the public responded, and provided both his name and address.
Judge Ramsey noted “most of the posts referred to him in a disparaging way”.
Police went to Bracken’s home and arrested him, and during a search they found cigarettes, tobacco, cash, sunglasses and a woollen hat.
Whilst Bracken initially told police a friend of his had called and “stashed” items at his house, he was subsequently picked out in an identification procedure.
He later admitted three offences – robbery, possession of a firearm or imitation firearm, and possession of a hammer with intent to commit robbery.
He later told probation he had been taking heroin prior to the robbery, that he went to his friend’s house for more drugs, that he had a pellet gun and that he made an “impulsive decision to rob the local shop”.
A defence barrister spoke of Bracken’s “very difficult background” and revealed he had addiction issues.
As he sentenced Bracken to eight years, Judge Ramsey told the Lenadoon man that the ordeal he put the shop assistant through was “truly terrible,” and said: “I accept this was impulsive and an action which you now bitterly regret.
Saying it gave him “no pleasure to impose a sentence on a young man with addiction issues”, Judge Ramsey said the young shop assistant was “finding it very very difficult to come to terms” with what happened to her.