Robbers jailed after raid on Sunderland hire firm
Three robbers are behind bars after a brave witness followed the getaway van after an armed raid.
James Dillon, who was wearing a hood and balaclava, brandished what looked like a real gun at a manager who arrived at a hire firm to open up in the early morning of May 29 last year.
Newcastle Crown Court heard the worker handed over a bag, which contained just a laptop, while convinced he was about to be killed.
Dillon, who had his accomplices waiting, got away from the scene in a works van driven by Michael Carty, with John Henderson as passenger, and seemed to quickly vanish out of sight.
But prosecutor Paul Reid told the court a customer who had been waiting outside for the company to open, saw what had happened while sitting in his car so called 999, followed the van and got its registration number to pass straight on to the police.
Now, Dillon, 47, of Rosemount, Sunderland, who admitted robbery and having an imitation firearm, has been jailed for five years and three months.
Carty, 46, of Railway Terrace North, Houghton and Henderson, 51, of Hylton Road, Sunderland, have both been jailed for four-and-a-half years after they pleaded guilty to robbery.
Mr Reid told the court the robbery happened at HSS Hire in Castletown, Sunderland, at around 7am.
He added: "A witness was waiting in his car in the car park for the store to open so he could return some hire machinery.
"He took the view, rightly, that Dillon was behaving suspiciously, he was wearing a hood and balaclava.
"The accounts manager arrived at this time to open up and went inside.
"As he did, the witness saw Dillon pull the balaclava down, go into the store, run up to the complainant and pull a gun, as it would appear.
"He threatened the complainant with it and told him to drop the bag.
"The complainant, not surprisingly terrified at having a gun pointed at him dropped his lap top bag."
The court heard the bag contained a £500 laptop and some paperwork.
Mr Reid added: "The witness saw this happening and he followed Dillon as he ran from the carpark and very quickly arrived at the junction of Fairley Lane, where the van was waiting for him.
"Henderson went around and opened the back door. Dillon and he jumped in and the van drove off, at some speed.
"The witness followed it and noted the registration number and passed it to the police.
"He had phoned the police when in the car park, sitting in his car, watching what was going on."
Judge Tim Gittins said it was accepted Carty and Henderson did not know Dillon was armed with the fake gun.
The judge said the victim had been "terrified" and "frozen to the spot", fearing he would be killed if he made a wrong move.
Judge Gittins added: "It is clear, in general terms, there was a degree of planning involved in this offence, in obtaining the weapon, in planning the use of a disguise with the balaclava and no doubt in targeting this commercial premises at a time when it was unlikely there would be anyone about but the man who had gone to open the store so early."
Rachel Hedworth, defending Dillon, said he is "genuinely remorseful" for what he did, at a time when he was addicted to drugs.
Miss Hedworth, said Dillon, who has had a good work employment record in the past and comes from a hard working family, has a "very, very different side to him".
Christopher Knox, defending Carty, said he has stayed out of trouble for a long time before he got involved in the offence and added: "There isn't anything of a professional robber in this man."
Nicholas Lane, defending Henderson, said the former kitchen hand has a good work ethic and that he offence was not a sophisticated one.