A MAN jailed more than a year ago for a knifepoint robbery at a convenience store has now answered for three further similar crimes committed prior to that offence.

Richard Pope received the four-year sentence at Durham Crown Court for robbing an assistant at a Sedgefield store of several hundred pounds, in the early evening of December 27, 2019.

He went to the counter wearing dark clothing and with his face covered before producing the knife.

The, now 41-year-old defendant, formerly of Tennyson Road, Chilton, was back before the court via video link from nearby Durham Prison and admitted a further three charges of robbery, possessing a knife in each.

Lewis Kerr, prosecuting, said he used the same “modus operandi” in those raids, all in December 2019, preceding the Sedgefield offence.

He said all were at small convenience stores in a 20-mile radius, in early evening with lone female assistants being left traumatised by Pope, producing a knife and demanding cash from the respective tills.

Mr Kerr said In each raid the defendant covered his face and wore dark clothing.

Pope escaped a shop and Post Office in Woodham Village, Newton Aycliffe, with £460 on December 6, 2019, took £300 from a mini-market in Ferryhill, six days later, and fled with £800 from a Langley Moor store on December 21.

Police identified him by reviewing cctv at the targeted premises.

Upon arrest he made no comment but indicated his guilt when the case went before magistrates.

Mr Kerr said evidence from a telephone seized on his arrest gave a clear insight into why the offences took place.

“One can see an increasing set of threats over a cocaine debt.”

Stephen Hamill, for Pope, said it took his client up to the age of 40 to “embark on a life of crime”, with theft offences and moving on to the robberies out of desperation due to a spiralling use of cocaine, leading to increasing debts with threats from his dealer to make repayments.

Mr Hamill said Pope is now remorseful and “genuinely sorry” for the effect on the store assistants.

Judge Ray Singh said the case underlined the wider effects of drug addiction, with the vulnerable shop staff members running the gauntlet just to help a desperate user meet his drug debts.

He imposed a seven year sentence, of which Pope must serve two-thirds before being eligible for release on licence.