Police followed robber’s trail to pub – then Europe

Caught: Francesco D'Elia, left, was caught on CCTV in The Withy Trees in Preston
Caught: Francesco D'Elia, left, was caught on CCTV in The Withy Trees in Preston
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An Italian restaurant worker has been caged after robbing a Preston off-licence and spending five years on the run across Europe.

Francesco D’Elia, 34, terrified shop worker Julie Gregson when he marched into the Bottle and Basket in Blackpool Road, Plungington, and demanded the till.

Mrs Gregson initially thought he was joking as she was serving another customer, but when D’Elia - who previously worked at Tiggis and The Italian Orchard - produced a rounders bat and began pounding on the counter she realised he was serious in his demands.

Terrified Mrs Gregson stepped aside and pressed the panic button as D’Elia grappled with the till before fleeing the shop with it at around 8.20pm on February 21, 2008.

As he left the shop, coins spilled out of the cash register and when officers arrived at the scene they followed the trail of cash to an electrical substation in Brackenbury Road, where they found the till.

From there, a trail of blood, with DNA matching D’Elia’s led them to the Withy Trees pub where CCTV gave a clear picture of the robber.

D’Elia was arrested after a CCTV appeal in the Evening Post and granted bail until his first court appearance.

However he failed to turn up at a plea and case management hearing at Preston Crown Court the following May.

Officers from Preston CID conducted enquiries at the restaurants D’Elia was known to work at and were told he had returned to Italy to find work.

Recorder of Preston judge Anthony Russell QC issued a European arrest warrant and D’Elio was picked up in Berlin. He had travelled first to Paris to seek work.

He was returned to the UK and pleaded guilty to the offence, five-and-a-half years after it was committed.

Recorder James Parry, sentencing, said: “I have read in your pre-sentence report that you were in financial difficulties but that was entirely your own making.

“Although you had a job had left your job at that time you were invited to come back to the job the next day.

“You were unhappy with the working conditions and you chose not to go back to the job.

“You voluntarily put yourself in this position where you had no accommodation.

“I have no sympathy whatsoever when you claim you committed this offence out of financial need or desperation.

“It is astonishing you committed an offence of this seriousness when I read you have an excellent work ethic and you now have a good job.”

He jailed him for four years and nine months.