Knife-wielding robber in gang-of-four jailed for holding up SPAR in Longridge
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Armed robber Leon Harrison said he had every sympathy with the shop assistant whose life he ruined in a terrifying late night hold-up, a court heard.
The 41-year-old from Longridge had been on the receiving end himself of a knife attack 20 years earlier and knew exactly how she felt, he told a judge in a letter from his prison cell.
But Recorder Paul Hodgkinson had absolutely no sympathy with Harrison despite hearing that he, like his victim, still bears the psychological scars from the night he was mugged at knifepoint two decades ago.
Sentencing him to seven years for robbing a Spar shop in his hometown of Longridge and possessing a knife, the judge told him: "You wrote me a note to say you were robbed 20 years ago and it still affects you to this day. (So) you should have known the effect that would have (on the shop assistant).
"To be faced with a robber wearing a balaclava would have been a truly terrifying experience, no doubt, for her. It was a serious and frightening incident on the part of that poor woman who was simply doing an honest day's work."
Preston Crown Court was told Harrison, of George Street, Longridge, was one of a four-man gang which carried out a "professionally planned robbery" on the convenience store in Mardale Road at closing time in November 2017. They stole £1,170 in cash from the till, cigarettes worth £3,750 and a large number of scratch cards.
Prosecuting barrister Jacob Dyer said the men, wearing face coverings and brandishing knives and a crowbar, burst into the shop as the lone woman was cleaning up and about to close. They had disabled the CCTV to avoid being identified.
The assistant was "dragged around the shop at knifepoint," he said. Customers who entered the store were "threatened at knifepoint and put on the floor."
In a witness statement read out to the court the woman said the robbery had had a "serious impact" on her, resulting in her having to leave the job for fear of it happening again.
"It was a job I loved. I loved going to work," she said. "I was a happy, bubbly person, but that changed that night. I had to leave my job because I didn't feel safe. Every time the door opened I thought it was going to happen again.
"I still suffer from anxiety (six years on). I now keep my doors locked. I panic. I don't go out at night on my own. When I get like this I end up having an anxiety attack, so now it's easier not to go out."
Mr Dyer said Harrison had confessed he was at the incident, but only in the white van outside. He claimed he didn't know there was going to be a robbery until the last minute.
"The Crown doesn't accept any of that," said the barrister.
Harrison was said in court to have had an extensive criminal record, comprising 57 offences of "mainly violence, dishonesty and drug supply." He had spent three spells in prison for three, four and six years. He had two convictions for assault causing actual bodily harm and one for possessing an offensive weapon. But he had no previous convictions for robbery.
Christopher Hudson, defending, said that as far as his client was concerned it was "a one-off in which he was reluctantly involved."
The other men involved in the robbery had not been apprehended. They had come from his house on the night and he had been "too frightened" to tell police who they were. "If you know you are mixing with these type of criminals you have to be.
"He comes from a difficult and damaged background. He knows he is going away and he has got to face the consequences."
He said since the robbery Harrison had "done his best to turn his life around."
The court heard that the delay in bringing the case to court - almost six years from the robbery - had been caused by a number of factors. It had been 12 months before Harrison had been charged, then Covid intervened and there had been delays in the completion of the trial in which he denied being involved but was found guilty by a jury.
Recorder Hodgkinson told him: "This (case) dates back to 2017, although of course the delay need not have happened if you had done the right thing in the face of overwhelming evidence."
In addition to the seven-year sentence for robbery, Harrison was given a further six months for possessing a bladed article, but that sentence will run concurrently.