A hooded raider wearing a face mask was allowed to rob a bank – because the manager was worried he might have a skin condition, a court heard yesterday.
Simon Jones, 38, politely queued for 15 minutes wearing blue latex gloves, a hooded top pulled up, a face mask and dark glasses.
Carrying a bottle of Febreze, and a hold-all, he behaved so strangely that a customer took a photo of him, Durham crown court heard.
But manager Gemma Hughes was worried about causing offence in case his strange attire was needed for a skin condition.
Jones stood in line until he reached the counter and handed over a note to cashier Victoria Smith telling her he had acid and a bomb.
Terrified Miss Smith bundled £370 into Jones’ hold-all and he was able to escape.
She had the presence of mind to hand over a decoy £1,000 bundle which contained a Nat West-approved tracking device.
But the bank’s humiliation was complete when the device failed to work.
If it had not been for members of the public reporting Jones’ car, the hapless robber may never have been caught.
Jane Waugh, prosecuting, said Jones researched how to rob a bank and took his girlfriend’s red Ford Fiesta when she went to walk her dog on May 17 this year.
He drove to the NatWest in Bishop Auckland, Co Durham.
Instead of bursting in and going to the desk he chose to stand in line.
Miss Waugh said: “Suspicions were aroused because of the appearance of the defendant and the fact he was rather obviously trying to avoid the security cameras.
“One customer said he “didn’t look quite right” and the police were called. The manager approached the defendant as he waited in the queue and asked if she could help him. He replied no.”
Judge Christopher Prince quizzed Miss Waugh about the manager’s actions. He asked: “So it was a hot day, he was wearing a coat with the hood up, carrying a big bottle of Febreze, wearing sunglasses, a face mask, blue plastic gloves.
“And yet he was just observed as he made his way to the front of the queue where Victoria Smith was left to be threatened by a man who said he had a bomb and acid?”
After taking advice, Miss Waugh explained: “The manager was concerned he might have had a skin condition as he waited patiently in the queue. She went to speak to him to find out if everything was alright.
“She tread a careful line between upsetting someone who might have had to wear such things to protect their skin or have a nasty motive for wearing such a disguise.”
Jones, of West Auckland, Co Durham, admitted robbery and taking his girlfriend’s car without consent. He was jailed for three years and four months by Judge Prince who described the robbery as planned but unsophisticated.
The judge did not want to criticise anyone in the bank for their actions that day.
He added: “Whilst it might be understandable not to want to offend someone with a skin condition, such were the circumstances here it is perhaps only due to time constraints on staff that more was not done to spare Victoria Smith from the situation that arose.
“She was left to face him one to one over the counter and was left in fear as to what might happen.” The court heard that Victoria had spent months off work and was only now in the process of returning to duty.
She has relived the moment she faced Jones in nightmares which kept her awake. She added in a statement: “I felt like I was in a parallel universe where this was not happening to me.
“There were children in the bank in pushchairs, other staff and numerous customers. We all could have been hurt by the actions of this person.”
Gemma Hughes also made a statement after the robbery, saying: “My staff were terrified. I feel nervous for the staff and nervous opening up the branch.”
Jones had suffered a brain injury three years ago which had caused him “cognitive difficulties” and the Febreze bottle had actually contained Febreze and not acid, said Christoper Baker, mitigating.
Jones also had addictions to gambling and alcohol but had written letters for the staff to say that he was “genuinely sorry” for what he had done.
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