AN OPPORTUNISTIC thief who drove off in a market trader’s van while the stallholder clung to the windscreen wipers through the streets of Frodsham has been jailed.
Serial offender John Ronald Bignell, of Ampulla Road, Croxteth, pleaded guilty to aggravated vehicle taking, assault occasioning actual bodily harm and driving without insurance at Chester Crown Court on Tuesday, when he was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison.
Frodsham Market stallholder John Michael Hall, a market trader for 23 years, was packing up £5,000 worth of stock at about 3.20pm on December 3 when he spotted 38-year-old Bignell getting into the driver’s seat of his white Vauxhall Navarro van.
Mr Hall attempted to open the passenger door to his van but father-of-one Bignell had locked himself in and refused to look at Mr Hall before reversing into Chapelfields.
David Jones, prosecuting, said: “It was then that bravely or maybe foolishly, or maybe a mixture of both, Mr Hall jumped on to the bonnet of the van and held on to the base of the windscreen wipers, with his feet resting on the bumper.”
Rather than come to a stop, Bignell continued to drive at about 40mph in the direction of Helsby.
Mr Jones said: “Mr Hall describes clinging on for dear life, with all sorts of thoughts running through his mind.”
A female pedestrian witnessed Mr Hall sprawled over the vehicle as Bignell appeared to be swerving and driving erratically in an attempt to dislodge him from the bonnet.
He continued to drive the stolen vehicle into Carriage Drive, a dead end, where he braked sharply and finally threw Mr Hall – who suffered grazing to his knee – to the ground.
Mr Hall quickly got to his feet and again tried to get into the van but Bignell drove off, damaging a parked Audi 6 and eventually disappearing from Mr Hall’s sight.
Police caught up with Bignell moments later when, after travelling along Lower Robin Hood Lane, he drove into a cul-de-sac and was cornered by a police vehicle.
Bignell – who claimed in court that he was trying to raise some money from the offence to replace his teenage daughter’s stolen Christmas presents – reversed into a wall before mounting a pavement and driving over a front garden and escaping back on to Main Street.
He eventually hit a fence and abandoned the van before being apprehended by the police.
Defending, Peter Davies described Bignell’s actions as ‘opportunistic’ and highlighted a mentoring role he had adopted when previously in custody.
He added: “In the committing of this ridiculous and foolish offence all the hard work he’s put into getting his life back together is wasted.”
Judge Roger Dutton said: “This was an extremely hardworking man, working hard for his family and his van is absolutely essential to this.
“He left home at 5am that day to set up but unfortunately he came across you.”
He added: “He was horrified by the idea of his living being interfered with and he was no shrinking violet. He was going to do everything he could to stop you getting away.
“The dangerous thing is that you did everything you could to get away.”