A relapsed drug user desperate for money for his next fix committed a robbery at a petrol filling station while carrying a fire extinguisher and two knives.

Robert Bell appeared heavily intoxicated as he entered Kip Hill Esso Petrol Station, in Stanley, shortly before 10pm on March 12 this year.

Durham Crown Court was told he began asking the two female assistants for money.

Philip Morley, prosecuting, said it was apparent that apart from the extinguisher he had two knives which he was holding under a kitchen towel.

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Mr Morley said despite telling the petrified women he would not hurt them, he was behaving in an unpredictable manner and they feared what he might do, despite his claims.

One of the assistants gave him the £20 contents of the till, which Bell said was not enough, so she opened the float box and gave him about £100 from that.

But Bell demanded that the safe should be opened, to which one of the assistants agreed and asked him if he wanted them to move out of the way to allow him access.

He said “no” and began to cry before throwing the extinguisher up one of the aisles and leaving the premises.

Mr Morley said police were called but Bell was not located until the next day, after information was received that he was on a bus due to arrive at Stanley Bus Station.

Officers quickly attended and detained Bell at the station.

Upon his arrest, a large kitchen knife fell from his waistband and on being searched a second was found in his possession.

Both were said to be the knives he appeared to have been carrying the previous day.

In their impact statements, read to the court, the victims spoke of the fear they felt and how they did not want to attend work in the days after the incident.

One also said she was often confronted by rude and drunken customers which made her anxious, particularly when working alone at night.

The court heard the only reason there were two assistants present at the time of the incident was that it was a shift changeover.

Bell, 45, of Sunny Terrace, Stanley, admitted charges of robbery, one of criminal damage to a window pane which he smashed by throwing a spanner at it, in The Empire Club in Stanley, earlier on the evening of the petrol station incident.

He also admitted two counts of possessing a knife in public.

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The court heard the defendant has 39 convictions for 84 offences, many for theft and burglary, but others for motoring matters.

Penny Hall, in mitigation, said Bell has no previous crimes of robbery or violence on his record, and pointed out that he went offence-free for five years prior to the incidents in March.

Miss Hall said at the time he had relapsed into substance misuse and was under the influence of drugs when he committed the robbery.

She said he has some mental health difficulties and this, coupled with the drugs he had taken, left him in the state he was in, when he entered the filling station.

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“He has shown he can go for long periods without offending and he needs to remain drug-free in future to keep out of trouble.”

She said he has been working with the prison drug advisory team while he been remanded in custody following his arrest and has been on a methadone prescription to curb his desire for drugs.

“He’s anxious that the court knows he is very ashamed about his behaviour and he hopes not to commit further offences upon his release, in future.”

Judge Jo Kidd said people working such shifts at petrol stations, usually for not great sums of payment, are “vulnerable” to such incidents.

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She said while Bell may have been under the influence of drugs at the time of the robbery, she did not think his actions could be blamed on his mental health issues.

Imposing a 40-month (three-years-and-four months) prison sentence, she said it would have been a five-year stretch had the defendant not pleaded guilty at such an early stage in proceedings.

Judge Kidd also ordered forfeiture and destruction of the knives recovered from the defendant upon arrest.