A ROBBER apologised to staff at a village convenience store as he raided the premises at knife point, telling them “times were hard”.

But, less than a fortnight later, Barry Taylor carried out another robbery, at a shop in a nearby village.

Durham Crown Court heard that having been in work at the start of the Covid-19 lockdown, Taylor had lost his job by the time of the first raid, at the Eco Store, in Langley Park, on May 14.

Martin Towers, prosecuting, said he entered at 7am shortly after the premises were opened and made an attempt to cover his face.

He threatened an assistant with a knife, demanding money and tobacco.

Taylor was heard to say: “Sorry, I’m having to do this. Times are hard.”

He left with £245 in cash from the till and with £80 worth of tobacco products.

Taylor was seen entering McColl’s, in Witton Gilbert, at 7pm on May 27, and was recognised by staff having been in the premises earlier that day stealing items.

Mr Towers said he again demanded money at knifepoint and this time took £615.

One of the two assistants present told him to “get out”, so he turned and pointed the knife towards her stomach.

Police responding to an emergency call arrested him nearby, as he matched the description of the robber.

Some of the stolen money from the shop was found stuffed in his clothing and he was identified as the perpetrator on store cctv.

Having initially made no comment, Taylor made admissions, telling police he was “down on his luck” and drunk in the first robbery and in the second he “felt down” at having no money.

Mr Towers said the two women working at McColl’s were so distressed at the ordeal that they have been unable to return to work.

Taylor, 35, of Lilac Avenue, Sacriston, who has 43 previous convictions, admitted two counts each of robbery and knife possession.

Lewis Kerr, mitigating, said having lost his job shortly after lockdown Taylor turned to drink and suffered a deterioration in his mental health.

Mr Kerr said Taylor almost wanted to be caught after committing the second robbery but was also remorseful about the effect on the shop staff involved.

Imposing a six year and eight month prison sentence, Judge James Adkin said the great impact on all the women involved was an aggravating feature of the offences.