A WOULD-BE store robber, armed with an imitation firearm, was foiled by the brave response of the owner’s two sons, a court heard.

Martin Locke entered Crossland Stores, in Sunderland Road, Horden, on April 25, at 7.30pm.

Durham Crown Court was told he approached the counter to buy a can of energy drink, but when the assistant opened the till, Locke produced what appeared to be a firearm and said: “Give me the money.”

The shop worker was initially confused what was happening, but recognised Locke as a regular customer.

Martin Towers, prosecuting, said Locke repeated the demand, but the assistant grabbed the weapon and shouted for help.

Locke managed to wrestle it back into his possession, cutting the store worker’s hands, and left the shop, laughing.

The assistant’s 17-year-old brother heard the commotion from the rear of the store and caught site of Locke, so he gave chase.

Mr Towers said Locke became aware he was being followed and tried to remove the weapon from his jacket.

But the pursuer took hold of him and, with the help of an unknown passer-by, managed to pin him to the ground, until police arrived.

Officers arrested Locke and took possession of the weapon, which turned out to be an air pistol, or pellet gun.

Locke made full admissions when questioned by police, saying he went to carry out a robbery at the shop as he had, “fallen on hard times”, needing money for drugs and rent.

The 40-year-old defendant, of Regal Road, Sunderland, was said to have ten previous convictions, but nothing of any similarity.

He admitted attempted robbery and possessing an imitation firearm.

Kate Barnes, mitigating, said Locke’s record is, “quite unusual”, given his lack of previous offences of such seriousness, with his last conviction in 2005.

But she said he has a history of drug misuse, underpinning some of his past offending.

Miss Barnes said Locke, a scaffolder, received some treatment for past drug dependency, but relapsed after breaking both ankles, in 2019, leaving him unable to work for six months.

That caused him some financial difficulty, which led him to attempt the, “entirely foolish enterprise”.

“It was planned to a degree, but wholly unsophisticated, and he’s at pains to express remorse, through me.”

Judge Ray Singh told Locke the shop owner’s sons were made of “sterner stuff” than him, despite being unaware the weapon was an imitation.

Imposing a three-year prison sentence on Locke, the judge said both shopworkers should be praised for their courage and awarded £350 each, from the public purse, and he asked the police to arrange a commendation.