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Gunman brought terror to shopping centre

Peshtiwan Rafat was jailed by a judge at Maidstone Crown Court
Peshtiwan Rafat was jailed by a judge at Maidstone Crown Court

A 24-year-old failed asylum seeker who brought terror to a busy Kent shopping centre by brandishing a gun and attacking security staff has been jailed for three years.

Peshtiwan Rafat pointed the pistol at Edward Samson and lashed out at colleagues Mary Collins and Glen Barwick before being wrestled to the ground and handcuffed.

The gas-powered air pistol was empty but Mr Samson did not know that when he was staring down the barrel at the Pentagon Centre in Chatham, Maidstone Crown Court heard.

Rafat, said to be a strict Muslim, had been drinking before running amok on May 26 last year. Part of the incident was caught on CCTV and shown in court.

Jonathan Higgs, prosecuting, said Mr Samson was on the ground floor and heard a commotion from the top of the escalators.

A man ran down the escalator the wrong way with a look of sheer terror on his face, shouting: “He got gun, he kill me.”

Mr Samson then saw Rafat. “He turned to the security guard square on and lifted his right arm and pointed a handgun towards him,” said Mr Higgs. “It was pointed directly at him for several seconds.”

Rafat then put the gun down the front of his trousers. Mr Samson called for assistance. CCTV cameras picked up the scene.

Rafat passed the gun to a friend. “One of the security staff, Glen Barwick, took the decision to put the man who has the gun, which may or may not be loaded, to the ground,” said the prosecutor.

“Mr Rafat intervenes by punching Mr Barwick to the head and body repeatedly. Ten to 15 blows are shown.”

Mary Collins went to her colleague’s aid and was punched forcefully to the head, causing her injuries.

Mr Higgs said armed police arrived to the area, which was crowded with shoppers, including mothers with babies in prams.

Instead of going quietly, Rafat pulled down his trousers and mooned. He was eventually handcuffed, but continued to struggle.

Mr Higgs said that if the gun had been loaded it would have been capable of causing lethal injury.

Rafat, of no fixed address, admitted possessing a firearm with intent to cause fear of violence and two charges of assault causing actual bodily harm.

Gordon Lee, defending, said Rafat fled from northern Iraq in October 2001 after his uncle and brother were killed in Kurdish faction fighting. “He was, effectively, going to be next,” he said.

Rafat’s application for asylum had been refused by the Secretary of State.

Mr Lee said his client had unusually drunk a huge amount of alcohol, about half a bottle of whisky, before committing the offences.

“It is unusual because he is Muslim,” he said. “He takes his religion very seriously. He is very ashamed of what happened.”

Judge Andrew Patience, QC, said he took into account the circumstances that led Rafat to seek sanctuary in this country.

“The fact remains that these offences were of the utmost seriousness,” he said. “I have seen enough of what happened to have the clearest possible understanding of how frightening this incident must have been.

“I can well imagine, as can any right-minded person, how terrifying it must have been for Mr Samson to be faced by a man pointing a pistol at him.

“He had no means of knowing whether it was loaded or not or whether he would be shot. Those members of staff who became involved did not deserve to be assaulted.”

The judge said there had to be a clear message that such behaviour involving vulnerable workers would not be tolerated.

He added that Rafat would serve half of the sentence and, if he remained in the country, would be on licence when released.

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