Robber is jailed after carrying out a spate of armed raids at shops and bookmakers in Rugby
A former butcher who carried out a spate of knifepoint robberies at shops and bookmakers in Rugby to try to pay off a drug debt has been jailed for a total of seven years.
Paul Ashford (31) of Wentworth Road, Rugby, had pleaded guilty at Warwick Crown Court to six charges of robbery, and had also admitted being concerned in the supply of crack cocaine.
Prosecutor Lee Egan said that at 8.15pm on September 24 a staff member was with a customer by a gaming machine in the Corals bookmakers in Hillmorton Road, Rugby, when Ashford came in.
He had a knife, and ordered both men to go behind the counter where he then reached over the counter and took £195 in cash from a drawer.
The employee grabbed his arm and tried to hold on to him, but he pulled away and left with the cash.
The following evening Ashford targeted the One Stop store in Lower Hillmorton Road at just after nine o’clock, brandishing a knife and telling a man working in the store: “Give me all the money from the till.”
The shop worker ran to a rear office and hit the alarm button which alerted the CCTV company who called the police, as Ashford left with £270 from the till.
Then on September 28 Ashford went into the Best One store in Deane Road at around 8.10pm when one of the couple who own the shop came from a rear room and found him behind the counter.
The owner tried to stop him by hitting him with a knife, but Ashford swung out with a large knife before grabbing the till, which contained £100-250 in cash, and left.
The shopkeeper bravely gave chase and tried to push him off his bike as he cycled away, but he got away with the till, which Mr Egan said was later recovered.
Two days later on September 30, again in the evening, he struck at the Corals bookmakers branch in Kingsway, Rugby, where he was recognised by an employee who had known him for 20 years.
Ashford pulled out a knife and told him: “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, open the till,” before making off with £625 from the till.
At 7.45pm on October 3 his attention turned to the One Stop community store in Frobisher Road and, brandishing a knife, he went behind the counter where a woman was working and snatched £2-300 from one till and more cash from another.
The following day the police, having identified Ashford, partly due to a distinctive tattoo on his neck, made an appeal for information on his whereabouts.
But before he was captured he struck again – this time at Kingsway News, next-door to the Corals branch in Kingsway, early in the morning on October 6.
Armed with a drill, he demanded that the till be opened, but then pulled the wires from the back of it and made off on his bike with the whole till and its contents.
After he had been arrested later that day, he ‘remained silent’ when he was interviewed.
Mr Egan pointed out that at the time Ashford was ‘under investigation’ for the drugs offence.
In April last year the police had recovered his phone from a grassed area in Southbrook Road, Rugby, and on it they found messages ‘consistent with him dealing in crack cocaine.’
And he entered his plea to being concerned in the supply of the drug on the basis that he had been pressured into acting as a ‘runner’ to help pay off his own debt to the dealers.
Mr Egan added that Ashford had a number of previous convictions, for offences including burglary and robbery some years ago, and more recently for producing cannabis, for which he had been given a suspended sentence.
Amy Jackson, defending, said: “In relation to the drugs, it is known he owed a significant debt to the people for whom he was working as a runner.”
She said that after his early offending, he had got his life on track, and had been a family man with his partner of seven years and working as a butcher.
But without warning the relationship broke down and she moved out with the children, which led to him turning to heroin and crack – and it spiralled even more out of control when his mother, with whom he was then living, was diagnosis with cancer.
Following his arrest for cultivating cannabis, the people behind that operation decided he owed them £11,000 for the lost crop – and put pressure on him to act as a runner to repay it.
And once he had been charged with being concerned in the supply of crack, they knew he was facing prison and put him under further pressure to repay the debt – which led to the robberies.
Ashford was jailed for five years and four months for the six robberies, with a consecutive 20-month sentence for the drug dealing offence.
Judge Sylvia de Bertodano told him: “The robberies were all of small businesses over a period of a couple of weeks, two bookmakers’ and four convenience stores, and in all but one you were armed with a knife.
“It is very, very frightening indeed when you’re working, particularly on your own in a store, when someone comes in with a knife. You may know you’re not going to hurt anyone – but they don’t know that.
“Your serious previous convictions are a long time ago, and you did get on track for several years when you were with your partner, but when that broke down your offending started again.
“I accept it was in order to pay a debt to drug dealers that you were undertaking this work supplying drugs for them and for you committing these robberies.”