A BUNGLING robber who started a fire at a petrol station as a diversion while he grabbed the takings has been locked up.
Raider Peter Cavanagh’s attack at the Shell garage in Warren Road in Hartlepool could have had horrendous consequences if the blaze had reached the fuel, Teesside Crown Court was told.
Cavanagh, 42, was drunk on a bottle of whisky and three cans of lager after losing his job and splitting up with his wife.
The Mail reported at the time how the incident ended when customers including teenager Brad Harrington, paramedic Sarah Thorpe and Shaun Sanderson put out the fire and helped tackle Cavannagh.
The court heard Cavannagh went to the garage at 6.40pm on November 3 last year and started a fire at the side of the premises among bags of coal as a diversion.
Then he went inside and chatted to the women staff about the price of chocolate bars before making a grab for the till.
Prosecutor Sue Jacobs said that while other passers-by tackled the blaze with buckets of sand and water, Cavanagh was grabbed by more members of the public who also alerted the police.
He made a late attempt to cover up his face after he had already been filmed by the garage’s CCTV.
He shouted as he was overpowered by other customers: “If you open the door and let me go I’ll tell you my name.”
After he was taken to Hartlepool police station, he told officers: “I started the fire to cause a distraction while I robbed the shop.”
The shop assistants, who both have children, said they were angry because they needed to work and Cavanagh had made it scary for them.
Mrs Jacobs added: “The potential could have been absolutely horrendous bearing in mind the amount of petrol that could have been stored on the premises.”
Jim Withyman, defending, said that the robbery was triggered by Cavanagh’s split with his wife after he discovered that she had hidden substantial debts from him.
He was estranged from his children and he lost his job, and everything became too much for him.
Mr Withyman said: “It was just a foolish episode.”
Judge Peter Armstrong told Cavanagh: “You thought that committing the offence and going to prison would be a way out.”
Cavanagh, of Jute Grove, Hartlepool, was jailed for three years after he pleaded guilty to arson being reckless whether lives were endangered, robbery and theft of two bars of chocolate.