Published: 00:00, 21 July 2005
A 32-year-old man has been jailed for nine years for an armed robbery at a Kent off-licence.
Sean McGarrigle held up terrified shop assistant Jonathan Coole at gunpoint in Herne Bay, making off with £1,200 in cash, tobacco and mobile phone cards.
Judge Timothy Nash praised Mr Coole and a passer-by, Russell Bearman, for their “public spiritedness”.
He stressed: “People who help the police these days are few and far between and not withstanding his fear, Mr Coole had showed his bravery and public spiritedness."
The judge awarded them each £250 from the High Sheriff after hearing how they managed to get the getaway car’s registration number.
McGarrigle, of Rose Cottages, Sutton at Home, near Dartford, had pleaded guilty to robbery and possessing an imitation firearm during the attack on the Unwin’s off-licence in Sea Street, Herne Bay in May. He also asked for seven other offences to be considered during sentencing.
Anthony Prosser, prosecuting, told Canterbury Crown Court said that at about 7.15pm, Mr Coole was aware of a silver Ford Escort parked outside the shop on the corner of Sea Street and Albany Drive.
McGarrigle walked inside and asked if they sold electrical tape but then left after being told it was an off-licence.
Five minutes later, he returned with two men - a black man and a white man, both with their faces hidden by a hood and a hat.
Mr Prosser said McGarrigle asked to buy a 26p packet of cigarette papers - but Mr Coole feared it was an excuse to get him to open the till.
“The three men then ordered him to open the till and produced what looked like a handgun. Mr Coole was extremely scared and feared for his life, “ he added.
The three then robbed the store of £896 cash before snatching tobacco and mobile phone top-up cards.
Mr Prosser then said the robbers - two of whom have never been traced - took Mr Coole’s wallet and credit cards.
After the gang had fled, the assistant noted the number of the car - and Mr Bearman, who was driving past the shop at the time - spotted three men running away and followed the vehicle.
He saw it turn into Cobblers Bridge Road, onto the Old Thanet Way and then the New Thanet Way heading towards London, the court heard.
The car was later abandoned in Sittingbourne and the robbers escaped after catching a London-bound train.
Mr Prosser said McGarrigle was arrested later on other charges - and after asking to watch the shop’s CCTV footage of the raid, admitted his part.
The father of one claimed his friends had been taking heroin and crack cocaine and he had decided on the raid to get money to feed his own drugs habit.
But the judge rejected his claim that the robbery was spontaneous - saying the gang had targeted a vulnerable shopkeeper.
“This is something all too familiar these days and shopkeepers and the general public must have the confidence that courts will not tolerate firearms being used in public.”
He asked that his commendations be passed to Kent’s Chief Constable Mike Fuller.