A 16-year-old boy who took part in a spree of violent shop robberies in Bedford in the early part of this year has been given an 18-month detention and training order today (Thursday).
The boy was part of gang of youths who targeted small corner shops, behaving like a “pack of hounds” according to the judge.
As well as stealing thousands of pounds worth of goods, the gang inflicted fear and trauma on their vulnerable victims.
The gang – who wore masks to carry out the robberies – generally struck late in the evening when they knew there would be just a one or two members of staff working and few customers.
With the aim of stealing cigarettes and alcohol, they made off with £1,600 worth of goods from one shop and £2,000 worth from another.
The boy, who can’t be named because of his age, appeared at Luton Crown Court today (Thursday) via a video link from the detention centre where he has been held on remand since his arrest in February of this year.
He pleaded guilty to a single charge of conspiring to commit robberies, watched from the public gallery by his mother, who was able to see her son on a giant video screen.
Alexander Wright, prosecuting, said the boy and his other co-defendants, who had yet to be dealt with, had been involved in five shop robberies.
Amazingly, the court was told that in January of this year in the middle of his campaign of terror, the 16-year-old appeared at a youth court in Bedford and was handed a referral order after pleading guilty to a robbery offence.
Within days of being handed the order, the boy was back out on the streets committing further robberies.
Mr Wright said the boy and other gang members had first struck on 5 January this year at MK Food and Wine in Elstow Road, Bedford.
At around 9.40pm they had entered the shop with their faces hidden as one youth had shouted at the lone shop keeper, “Give me all your alcohol” before another youth vaulted the counter and began grabbing bottles.
Judge Barbara Mensah, hearing the case, was told CCTV images had identified the 16-year-old defendant as being involved.
Two weeks later, on 19 January, the boy and his associates struck again, this time at Chiltern Stores in Chiltern Avenue, Bedford.
All had hoodies on that were pulled up and one robber picked up a bottle of Budweiser to threaten a shop worker with.
When the bottle was later examined for forensic clues, fingerprints belonging to the teenager were found on it.
On 31 January the gang struck again at the same store.
A shop worker worker was struck on this occasion by a baseball bat and £1,600 worth of goods were taken.
Then, on 1 February, the Costcutter shop in Library Walk, Bedford was the scene of another robbery carried out by the boy and some of his fellow gang members.
Four youths were in the shop, again with their faces hidden. One of the gang jumped over the counter to steal goods and the shop worker who was present had a bottle of wine hurled at him.
By the time the gang made off, the floor of the store was covered in broken glass.
Just 24-hours later the gang struck again, this time at a Londis shop in Queens Drive, Bedford.
£2,000 worth of goods were taken and the member of staff who had been present was to tell police later it had been the most frightening experience of his life.
Judge Mensah was told that police attended the shop and, as a result, a police dog led officers to a house nearby where the defendant was arrested.
Two black bags were recovered by the police with gloves and face coverings that had been used for some of the earlier robberies.
Thirty-eight boxes of cigarettes were also found by officers.
Daniel O’Malley, defending, told the court that his time in custody had given the boy time to reflect on his behaviour and think about the seriousness of what he’d done.
He said the boy was now remorseful and, at the time of his offending, hadn’t thought through the consequences of his crimes.
The court was told how the boy had been drinking alcohol which had played a part in what happened in January and February of this year.
“He needs light at the end of the tunnel and perhaps the court can give him that today,” said Mr O’Malley.
Passing sentence on the boy, Judge Mensah told him: “You and your friends targeted individuals who you knew would be vulnerable.”
She said the fear and trauma they had suffered would have “a lasting effect on them.”
The judge told him, “The story of your behaviour sounds like a pack of hounds feeding off the excitement and feeding off your dishonest gains.”
Judge Mensah said it appeared the boy had thought it “cool and clever” to hang around with a bunch of wasters, but she said if he didn’t learn from this he was “doomed” to spend much of his life behind bars.
She sentenced him to 18 months detention and training.