Victims shouted ‘yes’ in court today (Friday) as former soldier Neil Gordon was jailed for eight years for robbing two Melton convenience stores armed with an axe.
The 41-year-old, who lived at New Street, appeared by video link from the city prison at Leicester Crown Court after admitted the robberies, at the Craven Street Stores and the One Stop Shop, at a previous hearing.
After Gordon was taken down to start his sentence, one of his victims spoke emotionally about her relief that he was now off the streets.
Ann Sage, part-owner of the Craven Street Stores, who was taken to hospital with a gashed head after being hit with the axe during one of the raids, said: “I am happy with eight years although it could have been longer.
“At least I have closure now.”
The court heard how Gordon had gone into the One Stop Shop, on Grange Drive, and demanded money from the till after producing and brandishing an axe.
He pushed over a store assistant after threatening her and then ran out of the store and drove off in a car after two other members of staff came out from a back room.
That was at 5pm on March 1 this year and 15 minutes later Gordon arrived at the nearby Craven Street Stores, where he clambered over the counter and threatened assistant Susan Thomas with the axe.
When he was challenged by Mrs Sage as she came out from the back, he pushed her against the wall and to the floor and she was struck by the blade of the axe, causing the wound to bleed heavily, the court was told.
Mrs Thomas then opened the till after Gordon again demanded money and he grabbed around £300 in notes and coins before making off.
A series of powerful victim impact statements were read out from people who have suffered psychological traumas from being involved in the disturbing incidents.
One from Mrs Sage read: “I returned to work shortly afterwards but I was petrified.
“Every time the door opened I thought it might be him again.
“I can’t tell you how relieved I was when they got him - I felt like opening a bottle of Champagne.”
The court was told that one member of staff was unable to return to work at the One Stop Shop because of her ordeal and was too scared to go to court to face the robber.
Gordon’s counsel, Phil Gibbs, said the defendant had been remorseful about his crimes since talking to a psychiatrist while on remand in prison.
He said his client became addicted to drugs and had lapsed into a life of crime after being discharged from the army when a drugs test found he had smoked cannabis while on leave.
Gordon served in the Grenadier Guards between 1993 and 1997, including tours of Northern Ireland, and had been diagnosed with with post-traumatic stress disorder after seeing three colleagues killed when their car was blown up in front of him.
Mr Gibbs said the defendant also had issues through growing up with an abusive father, who was violent to both him and his mother.
“He can’t begin to explain his actions in this case beyond being desperate to get money for drugs,” his counsel told the court.
“He is prepared for a lengthy custodial sentence and he accepts that must be right.”
The hearing heard that Gordon had 26 previous convictions but had not previously been to sent to prison for any of them. One of them was another robbery at the same convenience store in Grange Drive in 2008, when it was under a different ownership, where he wounded the shopkeeper with a kitchen knife.
Judge Brown said he had taken a year off Gordon’s sentence because he had pleaded guilty and saved victims the upset and trauma of giving evidence.
But before he sentenced him to eight years he told Gordon: “People who work in stores like this, early in the morning or late at night, are vulnerable and they must be protected from actions like this.
“What you did has caused real hurt and pain and that is ongoing.”
Investigating officer, Detective Constable Nick Lant, from the force’s Complex Investigation Team, said after the hearing that Gordon had been identified as the axe robber after being arrested for stealing tobacco from the Mercury News Shop in Melton three days after the robberies.
He said: “An observant local PCSO tasked to look at the CCTV footage of the theft noticed a similarity between Gordon’s general appearance and that of the suspects in the Craven Street and Grange Drive offences.
“She thought his appearance looked similar in all three incidents and she took her observations to detectives who carried out further enquiries resulting in Gordon also being arrested for the incidents at both stores.
“Gordon was a prolific and dangerous offender and presented a threat to the town so today’s sentencing is great news for the local community.
“The impact these incidents had on the people of Melton was immense and I hope they will feel reassured that justice has been done.
“It should also act as a warning to anyone intent on committing crime in Melton that police will carry out a full and thorough investigation and bring those responsible to justice.”