Sunderland masked robber guilty of taking part in ammonia attack on shopkeeper

The Costcutter shop in Queen Street, Dawlish, Devon. Copyright Google Maps.
The Costcutter shop in Queen Street, Dawlish, Devon. Copyright Google Maps.

A masked robber from Sunderland has been found guilty of taking part in an ammonia attack on a shopkeeper who was almost blinded as his takings were snatched.

Neil Warner feared he was going to die or lose his sight when he was ambushed by robbers Rikki Ward and Paul Rowntree as he walked from a shop in Dawlish, Devon, to a nearby Post Office with £5,129.90 in cash.

Ward sprayed undiluted ammonia into his face while Rowntree grabbed a bag which contained the takings from the Costcutter shop during the attack on January 20 this year.

Mr Warner suffered partial blindness in one eye but would probably have lost his sight but for passers-by, who took him into an optician’s shop.

They both fled up a side alley and through gardens before being picked up and driven to a country lane at nearby Ashcombe where they threw their jackets, masks and gloves out of the window.

Ward’s DNA was found on the discarded ammonia bottle and he admitted his part in the raid but Rowntree denied being involved.

He was found guilty after a jury at Exeter Crown Court was shown CCTV of him laying in wait before the attack.

Getaway driver Ross Morton claimed he had no idea his two passengers had just carried out a robbery but was found guilty after phone evidence showed he had gone through Ashcombe and CCTV showed him going on a £300 shopping spree with the robbers after driving them to Torquay.

Ward, 28, of Chatham Road, Hylton Castle, Sunderland, admitted robbery and causing grievous bodily harm with intent.

Rowntree, 37, of Oswald Street, Millfield, Sunderland, but who was staying at Exeter Road, Dawlish, was convicted of robbery and grievous bodily harm with intent after denying the charges.

Morton, 29, of Gatehouse Close, Dawlish, was found guilty of assisting an offender after pleading not guilty.

They will all be sentenced by Judge Geoffrey Mercer, who remanded them in custody.

During a nine-day trial Mr Warner told of his terror in a video recorded police interview.

He was just yards from the Post Office when he was attacked.

The 58-year-old said: “I was totally blind and the pain was just unbearable. I remember being led in to the optician and asking if I still had a face left.

“I have a heart condition and thought I was going to have a heart attack. I thought I would never see my wife and boy again.”