Sunderland men alleged to have sprayed ammonia at shop manager in £5,000 masked robbery

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

A pair of masked robbers from Sunderland sprayed ammonia into the eyes of a shop manager before snatching his £5,000 takings in an ambush, a court has heard.

Victim Neil Warner was temporarily blinded and suffered serious eye injuries after being attacked as he walked a few hundred yards from the Costcutters shop which he managed in Dawlish, Devon, to a Post Office.

He was attacked by two men, one wearing a balaclava and the other with a scarf over his face, after they had lain in wait for him on his route.

The two men allegedly fled on foot through back streets and gardens before getting a friend to give them a lift to Torquay via back lanes where they discarded incriminating pieces of clothing.

One attacker, Rikky Ward, has admitted robbery but a second man, Paul Rowntree, denies he was involved, Exeter Crown Court was told.

They were allegedly seen on CCTV hanging around the Costcutter shop in Queen Street, Dawlish, before the attack on the afternoon of Monday, January 30, this year.

The CCTV showed two men wearing identical clothing to those in the footage hanging around The Strand, apparently waiting for 58-year-old Mr Warner to walk to the Post Office with the Costcutters takings.

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

Rowntree, 37, of Oswald Street, Millfield, Sunderland, but who was staying at Exeter Road, Dawlish, denies both charges.

Ross Morton, 29, of Gatehouse Close, Dawlish, denies assisting an offender by driving the two men to Torquay after the raid.

Mary McCarthy, prosecuting, said Mr Warner was carrying £5,129.90 to the Post Office on the Strand in an envelope inside a Costcutters carrier bag.

He was attacked within feet of the Post Office by Ward, who wore a balaclava and came out of a side alley armed with the ammonia bottle and Rowntree who ran across the road and picked up the bag.

She said both men ran up the road and away from the area and moved through Dawlish before reaching Old Gatehouse Road where they were picked up by Morton.

He took them to Torquay but on the way they went through back lanes near Holcombe where Ward and Rowntree threw clothing out of the car window into the hedge, where it was later recovered by police.

Miss McCarthy said a balaclava, grey hoodie and gloves had Ward’s DNA on them and a Berghaus jacket, identical to one seen being worn by the other robber on the CCTV, had Rowntree’s DNA on it.

His DNA was also one of three profiles on a discarded trainer, which was also identical to that worn by the second robber.

The court heard that the three men went straight to a JD Sports shop where they all bought items for cash. Rowntree also bought himself a new mobile phone.

Miss McCarthy said Mr Warner suffered a serious injury from the ammonia.

She said: “The effect of the liquid was to incapacitate him immediately and cause him intense pain.

“The liquid literally burns into soft tissue and caused very severe damage to his eye.

“Some went into his mouth and caused immediate vomiting.

“The top of the bottle was left behind at the scene.

“It was quite distinctive and red and identical to one sold from a shop in Teignmouth.

“It was examined and found to have Ward’s DNA on it.

“Ward seemingly squirted the ammonia in Mr Warner’s face while Rowntree grabbed the money.

“Morton admits he collected them after the offence.

“He would have known from when they got into the car, from the state they were in and the way they discarded their clothing, that they had at the very least committed some offence.”

The court heard that, after leaving Torquay, Morton drove them to the Bay Hotel in Teignmouth, where they stayed, paying cash, before he took Rowntree back to Sunderland.

A jury heard he drove back on his own and Rowntree followed in another car with his partner and he and Ward moved into a caravan at the Lady’s Mile Caravan Park on Dawlish Warren, where police arrested them on February 2.

The trial continues.