A dangerous crook has been jailed for eight years after brandishing a potato peeler at staff during a makeshift armed robbery.

Convicted robber James Rickett pounced on terrified workers at the Spar in Upton as they were locking up for the night – wearing a balaclava hastily made out of the lining of his coat.

Brave shop worker James Hare was left with broken ribs after trying to stop the violent convict, who was high on a concoction of cocaine and alcohol, throwing a trolley at the robber as he fled from the store.

Rickett, of Bishop Road, Anfield, in Liverpool, escaped with £119.94 from the till, but was foiled after leaving his coat with torn lining used for his handmade mask in a nearby garden, covered in his DNA.

The 48-year-old was only released from jail in August last year after serving time for an almost ‘identical’ robbery in 2009 where he threatened shopworkers with a bicycle pedal.

He was out on licence when he raided the Upton store on September 13, threatening the three shop workers with the potato peeler and forcing them to give him handfuls of cash from the till.

Rickett was sentenced to eight years behind bars, followed by five years on licence, by Judge Roger Dutton who branded him a ‘dangerous crook’ during a hearing at Chester Crown Court today (November 11).

He pleaded guilty to one count of robbery and one count of possession of a bladed article at an earlier hearing.

Startled staff members, James Hare and Laura Shaw, were preparing to lock up the store when hoodied Rickett barged past them and raced towards the counter, the court heard.

“He was wearing some kind of handmade balaclava over his head,” said Peter Hussey, prosecuting, who said Rickett started shouting at staff member Nathan Shirewin to open the till.

“It could then be seen that he was holding in his right hand a small knife. [Mr Hare] describes it as a small potato or peeling knife.”

An armed raid took place at the Spar in Long Lane, Upton, on Saturday night
The Spar in Long Lane, Upton
 

The court was shown CCTV imagery of Rickett, wearing what appears to be a bag on his head, leaning over the till and threatening the shop worker with the knife as he scrambles to hand over the cash.

Rickett then demands to be shown the safe, but turns to flee when the shop workers say they can’t open it – it is then that Mr Hare bravely tackles the robber shoving a trolley at him in a bid to stop him getting away.

“There was something of a struggle in which he managed to get away,” said Mr Hussey, who added that the shop worker suffered a number of broken ribs and bruising during the struggle.

Just 20 minutes after the robbery, a resident in Weston Grove called the police after seeing a drunk man climbing over his fence and standing at the bottom of his garden.

And when officers searched the bushes they found the knife and a coat – which had a big hole cut out of the lining which had been used to make the mask.

Shop worker Laura Shaw, who still works at the store, said she was ‘physically sick’ following the robbery which had left her frightened and jumpy, said Mr Hussey reading from a witness statement.

“Following the robbery I was physically sick. Whenever there are big groups within the shop I get nervous and jumpy,” he read, saying her husband now arrives 15 minutes before the end of her shift to make sure she is ok.

“I am now frightened of the dark. When she works a late shift she finds herself clock watching. She is worried about leaving the shop at night.”

Rickett, who has 25 previous convictions for 53 offences including burglary and robbery, was brandished a ‘dangerous offender’ when he was jailed at Liverpool Crown Court in 2009 for an almost identical offence.

He was released in August last year after serving part of a six year sentence, and was part way through a three year extended licence when he raided the Upton store.

Laura Tipping, defending, argued that the crime had not been sophisticated and Rickett had committed the offence after being drug free for almost 12 months.

“He was in fact particularly upset when I read the statement of the young girl. His remorse is to all intents and purposes genuine.”

Sentencing Rickett to an extended sentence of eight years, with five years on licence after he is released, for the robbery and two years for the offensive weapon, which will run concurrently, Judge Dutton said: “I have no doubt in concluding there is a significant risk to members of the public.

“What is very worrying is having been told in 2009 that a long sentence of imprisonment was going to be imposed because of what you were doing, you have taken not a single bit of notice.”

“The impact on these three individuals has been profound. They will always wonder whether the next person to come into the shop after dark is going to be a real customer or a violent crook like you.”