Masked raiders who fired a gun during a ‘bungled’ attempted robbery at a Post Office in Sunderland are today behind bars.
Kevin Jarvis, 43, and George Tumilty, 32, carried out the failed but ‘professionally planned’ attempt at Ford Post Office on Hylton Road, on January 16, Newcastle Crown Court heard.
Clad in balaclavas, the pair entered the premises at 4.45pm as sub-postmaster Robert Forster and his wife Joanne were preparing to close for the evening.
The couple, who have been running the post office for 18 years, were suddenly confronted by a loaded sawn-off shotgun.
Prosecutor Shaun Dodd said Mrs Forster heard her husband shout “get out of here” and the pair took shelter behind the counter.
The court heard Jarvis and Tumilty then used either the barrel of the gun or a hammer they had with them, in an attempt to smash their way through the safety glass.
Shortly afterwards a shot was fired, hitting bottles of alcohol at the other end of the shop.
Mr and Mrs Forster were able to activate the alarm and Jarvis and Tumilty fled empty handed in a Vauxhall Vectra parked outside.
A short time later they were seen on CCTV discarding evidence including clothing, car keys and a bag with the hammer and shotgun in gardens in St Luke’s Road.
The pair were arrested shortly after 4am after a one-hour stand-off inside Jarvis’ home in Garfield Street.
Jarvis, of Garfield Street, Pallion, and Tumilty of Flodden Road, Ford Estate, each pleaded guilty to two counts of attempted robbery - of Mr and Mrs Forster - and of possession of a firearm.
Prosecutor Shaun Dodd called the circumstances of the incident ‘mercifully rare’ and added: “This was a professionally planned commercial robbery.”
Tony Cornberg, defending Tumilty, said: "It was far from professionally planned.
"A weapon was carried and it was discharged - not at the glass, but into some bottles of alcohol.
"The reason for that is Mr Jarvis was squirted with some dye. He panicked and let out a scream.
"He bumped into Mr Tumilty who accidentally discharged the firearm into some bottles of alcohol.
"If ever there was a bungled attempted robbery with people bumping into each other, this is it."
Andrew Rutter, defending Jarvis, said: "He needed money, that was his motivation.
"Had it not been because of threats made towards his family he would not have got involved.
"A gun was involved. He didn’t know it was loaded and its discharge was entirely by accident."
Judge Stephen Earl sentenced Tumilty to 10 years, six months imprisonment, with an extended licence period of four years - making the total sentence 14 years, six months.
He will have have to serve two thirds of the custodial element and will only be released early on licence if the parole board decide it is safe to do so..
He was on licence at the time of the incident for an offence of grievous bodily harm, after he slashed a man’s nose off in a pub with a broken glass.
Jarvis was sentenced to nine years imprisonment, of which he will serve half in custody.
Judge Earl said: "This incident seems to me to have all the hallmarks of a professional plan, but that does not mean it was successful.
"The ineptitude of these, which have been described as rather bungled events, show you were unable to think clearly.
"The fact that you were unable to carry out your plan does not mean you did not have a plan in the first place."
COUPLE RELIVE MOMENT RAIDERS STRUCK
The couple targeted in the botched Post Office raid bravely opened up their shop as normal the following day.
Mr Forster said in his victim statement how the incident had left him feeling vulnerable and distrusting of people.
He said: "Two men came in. I recalled the song ‘Looking Down the Barrel of a Gun’ - because that is exactly what I did.
"My immediate reaction was to stay behind the screen.
"It felt like a car accident. Everything happened in slow motion, frame by frame."
Mr Forster said that when he found out that those behind the incident were from his own community he felt ‘disgusted’.
He added: "The dints on the counter are a daily reminder of what happened.
"It was a dreadful experience and we have not yet fully got over what happened, but we won’t let these people have an impact on our lives."
Mrs Forster said in her statement that she had helped Tumilty open a post office account a year before, because he had just got out of prison and was unable to get a bank account.
She said: "I know his gran and grandad. They are lovely people.
"His gran came in and apologised for her grandson’s behaviour."
She added: "It was scary. It’s hard not to worry about what could have happened, but we carry on and try not to let it affect our outlook on life."
DETECTIVE WELCOMES CONVICTIONS
Afterwards, Superintendent Paul Milner said: "This incident caused significant disruption to the local community and I would like to thank them for their patience and co-operation during our enquiries, we do not take their support for granted and are very grateful.
"The use of a firearm in this way is incredibly rare in our communities however the illegal use of firearms is something we simply will not tolerate and we will be relentless in our pursuit of anyone involved in this type of criminality, the significant sentences handed by the court today reflect the gravity and serious nature of these offences.
"It's encouraging to see the great efforts by the CID team involved in this case recognised by the court. The team involved have done a fantastic job and put in a lot of hard work to make sure justice was done.
"Police officers right across the force regularly go above and beyond their role no matter what role they carry out to rid our communities of dangerous criminals.
"This work is a prime example of the daily efforts our detectives go to ensure a thorough investigation is carried out and no stone is left unturned in securing evidence for a successful prosecution."