A WOULD-BE robber got more than he bargained for when the shopkeeper he threatened turned out to be a former sergeant major with 25 years’ Army experience.

Stuart Curtis was met with a punch in the face when he demanded John Abbott emptied his till of all its contents after claiming he had a gun.

Curtis, 21, then swung a punch at the 61-year-old shopkeeper, who has served in Northern Ireland and Germany, but missed and he ran off.

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Police arrested him a short time later riding a stolen bicycle he used to make his getaway.

Mr Abbott, who has run Milbank News, in Pierremont Crescent, Darlington, for the past 20 years, said: “I wasn’t scared, I am ex-Army – I don’t stand for any rubbish.

“It is my money and we work long hours to get this money so I’m not going to give it to someone who isn’t legally entitled to it.”

Teesside Crown Court heard Curtis walked straight up to the shop’s counter at about 1.30pm on January 29 this year with his left hand in his jacket pocket, claiming he had a gun.

Father-of-four, Mr Abbott, swore at Curtis before punching him to the left side of his face.

“It was the fact that he said he had a weapon that made it worse," he told The Northern Echo. "But if he had come and not said that he would have got the same reaction.

“I had to punch him with my left hand, because the chewing gum stand was in the way of my right hand!”

Curtis, of no fixed abode, who admitted attempted robbery, had previous convictions for shop theft along with offences such as dishonesty and criminal damage.

Ben Pegman, mitigating at Teesside Crown Court, said Curtis did not have a gun and “would not have the wherewith all to get one”.

He said: “This was a bungled attempt at a robbery, amateur in its execution with no pre-planning or thought as to how he would carry it out.”

Mr Pegman said Curtis was in a desperate situation and began committing offences in order that he would be imprisoned as an alternative to being on the streets.

Jailing him for two years, Recorder Toby Hedworth said Mr Abbott did not know whether Curtis had a weapon.

He said: “He is clearly a man of considerable resolve and his immediate reaction was to strike out at you to prevent you drawing what he genuinely believed was a gun in your pocket.

“Unfortunately he is now in a situation where his family are wanting him to retire all because he had the temerity to stand up for himself in his own business premises.”