A ROBBER who struck twice within a month at local shops is starting a five-year prison sentence.

Former soldier Byron Williams was said to have been desperate for money to pay off a loan shark when he carried out the raids in June and July.

But his crimes left lone workers at each of the stores in Hartlepool with devastating consequences, Teesside Crown Court heard.

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One woman is now afraid to leave her home alone, and is having counselling, while a man at the second shop fears a repeat of the robbery.

Williams, 20, had never been in trouble before launching the double raids, Judge Deborah Sherwin was told.

His lawyer, Andrew Teate, said he had no drug or alcohol issues, and added: "It appears that his motivation to commit this offence was financially-related."

Williams was said to have been waiting for his benefits to arrive, had difficulties with his accommodation, and the debt to the money-lender.

On June 30, he struck at Lister News in Lister Street where he bought a fizzy drink and waited for the assistant to open the till before trying to grab notes.

He tried to steal the cash register, but it was chained down, was punched in the head by the worker, and the pair of them tussled, said prosecutor Jenny Haigh.

Williams escaped with between £100 and £200, was arrested three days later, but was released on bail after being questioned.

The victim told in an impact statement how it has had "a massive" effect, and added: "All the time, I think of this person who attacked me. I just can't get him out of my mind, and I can't forget the incident."

On July 29, Williams targeted the Premier convenience store on Osborne Road, and got away with £350 following a violent struggle with the shopkeeper.

The man, left with cuts to his hand, said: "I have been very worried and scared that the male would come and rob me again.

"I am filled with constant panic. I am very angry that he thinks he has the right to take my money."

Mr Teate said: "The defendant says the first one was an opportunistic offence. He went to the store to buy, quite legitimately, a soft drink, and when the till drawer opened, recognised there was money in there.

"He had consulted a loan shark, borrowed £200, and was told before the commission of the second offence that that was owed in full and there may be consequences, and that led to him stupidly taking this decision."

Judge Sherwin told Williams: "I do hope the victims will be able to put this behind them. They both showed a commendable amount of courage in trying to fight you off."

Williams, of Church Street, Hartlepool, admitted two charges of robbery.