A TRADESMAN who turned to armed robbery in a bid to pay off mounting debts was caught when he used his work van during a raid on a Post Office.
Darren Gilmore, 43, was jailed after a court heard how he used a fake gun made from a piece of wood to terrify staff at a betting shop on Tong Road, Armley, and the post office on Old Lane, Beeston.
Gilmore was caught after post office owner Phillip Barker refused to hand over cash and chased him.
The concrete worker ran to his work van but was followed by Mr Barker who spotted Barker’s firm’s logo on the side of the vehicle.
Police arrested Gilmore following the incident on Christmas Eve last year and his DNA linked him to the earlier robbery at the William Hill bookies on Tong Road, which took place on November 8.
Two members of staff were threatened during that raid before Gilmore was handed £400.
The court heard Gilmore has no previous convictions and had no problem with alcohol, drugs or gambling.
The offences were motivated by desperation after Gilmore, of St Phillips Close, Middleton, fell into mortgage arrears and hid the financial problems from his wife.
After his arrest he told police he committed the offence at the post office as he was ashamed at not being able to buy Christmas presents for his son.
Gilmore was jailed for four years, eight months, after pleading guilty to two offences of robbery and two of possession of an imitation firearm.
Judge Geoffrey Marson, QC, also awarded Mr Barker £250 from public funds for his courage and public spirited actions.
The judge said: “Without his actions it may be that these offences would not have been detected. In my view it was an exceptional act.”
After the case, Mr Barker told the YEP: “I don’t think what I did was particularly brave because I just reacted really. It’s all a bit of a blur when I think about what happened.
“He told me he had a gun and pointed it straight at me. I didn’t have time to think - I just reacted.”
Leeds Crown Court heard from a probation officer who described how Gilmore had none of the problems often associated with such offences.
Ken Green, mitigating, said Gilmore had been hiding bank letters from his wife so she did not know they were in mortgage arrears and were £3,500 overdrawn.
He said Gilmore broke down in tears when he confessed to police about what he had done.
Mr Green said Gilmore was sorry for terror he had caused to his victims and accepted that he must serve a lengthy prison sentence. He added: “It is an unusual, and perhaps exceptional case.”
Judge Marson added: “These offence were committed out of desperation, I am satisfied. But as you will know, that is no excuse at all.”