Masked raider from Sunderland jailed for seven years after 'ferocious' armed robbery on Post Office

A masked robber is behind bars for a smash and grab armed raid at a village Post Office.

Wednesday, 29th January 2020, 3:11 pm
Updated Wednesday, 29th January 2020, 4:41 pm

Reece Smith and his accomplice, who has never been caught, launched a "ferocious" sledgehammer attack on the fortress glass at the rural store and made off with £750 in cash.

Postmaster Arthur Watkiss was hit with a cosh during the terrifying raid the shop, at Ushaw Moor, which is attached to his family home.

Smith, of Jacques Street, Sunderland, who has 26 previous offences on his record, pleaded guilty to the Post Office robbery, which happened in December 2016 .

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Reece Smith
Reece Smith

The 24-year-old also admitted robbery and fraud after he and pal Andrew Rooney, who also pleaded guilty, pushed a lone woman to the ground as she walked through Sunderland city in December 2017 so they could grab her bag.

The pair then used her bank card to buy £20 worth of scratchcards from a nearby garage, while the victim was left grazed and afraid.

At Newcastle Crown Court Smith has been jailed for a total of seven-and-a-half years.

Rooney, 28, of no fixed address, was given two years imprisonment, suspended for two years, with rehabilitation requirements and a four month curfew.

Andrew Rooney

Prosecutor Shaun Dryden told the court the Post Office was stormed by two men, wearing hoods and balaclavas, in the early morning, just over a week before Christmas that year.

The men, who were armed with a hammer, a sledgehammer and a cosh, started smashing at the glass to reach the counter, while Mr Watkiss stood behind it.

Mr Dyrden said: "He had the presence of mind to move towards the panic buttons. The glass had began to crack.

"Mr Watkiss describes shielding his face because he was fearful of the glass coming through, as they were swinging at it with such great force.

"He looked up to see one of the males pushing his head through the parcel hatch. The male was trying to get through the hatch.

"Mr Watkiss tried to force it shut.

"While this was being done, one of the males struck him on the wrist using a cosh like implement."

The court heard the raiders snatched £750 in cash from the counter top after the glass eventually smashed and made off in a car they had waiting outside, which was later found dumped.

Mr Watkiss said in a victim statement, which he read himself in court: "It was a terrifying experience. It was totally ferocious and I felt like it was never going to stop."

Mr Watkiss said he was not badly physically hurt during the raid but said he was been left asking "what if" and is wary when new customers enter the shop.

He said the shop had to close for 18 days so the glass could be repaired, which cost him £1,800 and meant customers, including those cashing pensions, had to find an alternative Post Office at the busiest time of year.

Judge Penny Moreland told Smith: "This was a planned robbery, planned by you and another person who has never been identified.

"You had a car to use to get to the Post Office and get away.

"You both acquired disguises, wearing hoods and balaclavas, both armed yourself with weapons.

"Mr Watkiss describes the attack which you and your accomplice launched at the Post Office as ferocious.

"You set about breaking the fortress glass with hammers, you struck Mr Watkiss, one of you, using an implement like a cosh, when he got in the way.

"You were determined in breaking the glass and stealing money."

The judge said the post master and his wife have suffered ongoing distress as a result of what happened.

David Callan, defending, said Smith had a "turbulent, disjointed" childhood and at the time of the Post Office raid was "penniless" and had a cannabis habit.

Mr Callan added: "He accepts he is going to spend a significant period in custody. His attitude now is he wants to do his sentence, come out, change his life around.

"He is still comparatively young."

Vic Laffey, defending, said Rooney acknowledges the distress caused to the woman targeted for her handbag and is remorseful for it.

Mr Laffey said Rooney has improved his life "drastically" since the offence and wants to continue to do so.