A homeless man carried out an armed raid on the Royal Bank of Scotland branch in Rugby in desperation after falling on hard times.
Trained toolmaker James Keay had been living rough in a tent after losing his job and walking out of his rented home after problems with his neighbours.
And he wanted money so he could have a couple of nights of comfort in a hotel – but was foiled by the cool thinking of the cashiers he had targeted at the bank in Rugby and another in Nuneaton.
Keay, 41, of no fixed address, pleaded guilty at Warwick Crown Court to two charges of robbery, one of possessing an imitation firearm, and two of having offensive weapons.
He was jailed for five years and four months after being given credit for his early pleas – and was also ordered to pay total of £1,020 in court charges.
Prosecutor Graeme Simpson said that on October 8 Keay entered the RBoS branch in Rugby town centre and approached a cashier’s counter.
He had an axe in one hand, and in the other was a hammer concealed in a scrunched-up carrier bag which he pointed at her, threatening: “I’ve got a gun. I want all the money.”
Believing he did have a gun and might use it, the cashier removed all the banknotes from the till and passed them to him.
But her training kicked in, and she remained calm enough to also pass him a bundle of ‘raid notes’ – a wad of notes with a capsule of red dye in the middle which is activated when the bundle is opened.
Having got a total of £4,374 Keay left the bank, leaving the axe, which he had stolen from a shop earlier that day, behind.
Shortly afterwards a member of the public came across the carrier bag in an alleyway – with the bag and the banknotes inside covered in the red dye from the raid notes.
Having ended up with just £4 in coins for his efforts, Keay next targeted the RBoS branch in Nuneaton four days later. A cashier handed over £3,650 including a wad of raid notes among she handed over, and pressed the alarm as he left with his haul. Keay still had the bag with much of the cash in it when he was arrested in Nuneaton town centre just minutes later.
He gave a full account of what he had done that morning and volunteered that he was also responsible for the Rugby raid, explaining that he was homeless and wanted money so he could spend a couple of nights in a hotel and buy himself a few luxuries.
Mohammed Hafeez, defending, said Keay, who was originally from Walsall, was a 41-year-old man with no previous convictions. He was a trained toolmaker who had worked for almost all of his adult life until he was made redundant from his job at a factory in Wolverhampton in 2004, when he chose to live on his savings rather than claim benefit. When they ran out he obtained a housing association flat and began receiving jobseeker’s allowance.
But in December last year some new tenants began causing him problems, so he left his home with just £400 in his pocket.
Unable to get benefits without secure accommodation, he began living in various locations in a tent he had bought, showering at public baths and shoplifting to get food.
“His explanation for this is that he came to the stage where he just struggled to cope. He wanted some money to check into a hotel and have a couple of comfortable nights to think about where to go from there,” added Mr Hafeez.
Judge Andrew Lockhart QC told Keay: “This is a very, very unfortunate day for you; but it was much more unfortunate for those you chose to attack, because robbery is an attack.
“This was pre-planned, and you waited outside for your moments. But I take account of the fact that you, a 41-year-old man, had become homeless and were desperate for money.”
After sentencing Keay, Judge Lockhart said: “The two bank employees went to work on those two days expecting to have an ordinary day at work. They had anything but that.
“But they have been admirably trained to remain calm when faced with an utterly terrifying ordeal. Both women should be commended for the considerable bravery they showed in very frightening circumstances.
“It was, by both of those woman, a model response when faced by a terrifying ordeal,” he added, ordering a transcript of his remarks to be sent to the managing director of the RBoS.