A MAN who waylaid a foreign student on the pretext of making an immigration check, was only stopped in his tracks when two other undergraduates came to the woman’s assistance.

Warren Pearce approached the student as she was walking from her South Road college into the city centre in Durham while listening to a device on headphones, at 10.20am on November 20, last year.

Durham Crown Court heard that Pearce posed as some form of immigration official and asked for her papers to check if she was entitled to stay in the UK.

Nigel Soppitt, prosecuting, said the confronted student offered up her passport and British residence permit, and Pearce responded, saying they should go to somewhere quieter to conduct checks.

He walked a short distance and then went through the motions of making a phone call, supposedly to verify the validity of her documents.

Mr Soppitt said once the bogus call ended Pearce threatened to have her locked up, telling her the passport was fake.

She protested that she could prove it was genuine if they went back to her college, but Pearce became agitated and nervous, which Mr Soppitt said was probably due to the amount of drugs he had taken.

He angrily made more threats about having her locked up, and, the woman became more and more anxious, considering running away.

Mr Soppitt told the court that Pearce seemed to sense this and grabbed her round the neck, putting his hand over her mouth.

The victim dropped her phone and lost her glasses, as Pearce told her to shut up and said he would have to take her somewhere quiet.

He demanded money and dragged her towards some bushes, as she begged him not to hurt her.

Two other students in the area, who became aware that she was being dragged towards bushes, challenged Pearce.

He ran towards one of them, but did not intimidate the students, who gave chase, despite Pearce shouting aggressively, and filmed him as he fled.

In the aftermath of the incident the shocked student was taken back to her college, and, although the defendant got away, he was arrested about 90 minutes later.

Pearce, who was found in possession of cannabis, apologised and admitted trying to rob the student.

It emerged he had been released after being questioned about other matters at Durham City Police Station earlier that morning.

Mr Soppitt said Pearce claimed that on his release from the police station he smoked so much cannabis that his evil alter ego, “Geoff”, emerged and he, simply, “blacked out.”

In interview he denied the pictures of him fleeing were him.

The 30-year-old defendant, of Ashton Street, Easington Colliery, initially denied attempted robbery, but weeks before his scheduled trial changed his plea to guilty.

Mr Soppitt told the court Pearce has 23 convictions for 43 offences and served a previous three-year sentence for kidnap.

Read more: Durham man charged with robbery of foreign exchange store in city

Chris Baker, in mitigation, said there was “limited” use of force used, as Pearce placed an arm round the victim’s neck.

Mr Baker said since going into custody the defendant has accepted assistance for issues with mental health, and abuse of drugs and alcohol.

“It does show he is taking some steps to deal with what has been a pernicious cycle of offending stretching back some considerable period of time.”

Recorder Tom Moran said it must have been an “absolutely terrifying” ordeal for the victim, and, but for the intervention of the two “brave” students it could have proved far more serious.

Finding Pearce poses a “significant” risk of serious harm to the public, he imposed an extended determinate sentence of 56 months, of which the defendant must serve two-thirds before being eligible for consideration for parole.

Upon release he will be subject to an extended licence period of three years.

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