Jail for charity worker who robbed Harrogate village store while armed with knife and hammer

A charity worker who raided a village convenience store armed with a knife and a hammer has been jailed for two-and-a-half years.

Wednesday, 16th June 2021, 2:40 pm
Updated Wednesday, 16th June 2021, 2:42 pm

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Munashe Chikomba, 23, was said to be “extremely polite” during the bungled robbery and didn’t appear to know what he was doing, York Crown Court heard.

The well-educated, softly spoken would-be robber walked into Summerbridge Stores near Harrogate with his hood up, a Snood masking his face and carrying a 12-inch, rubber-handled hammer, a five-inch knife and a plastic bag, said prosecutor Jeremy Barton.

Munashe Chikomba, 23, has been jailed for two and a half years after robbing a village convenience store in the Harrogate district.

Store owner James Thornton was behind the till as Chikomba, who had driven from Leeds, walked up to the counter. There was a female customer in the shop when the incident occurred in the quaint village store at about 3.30pm on March 27.

“As (Chikomba) got closer, (Mr Thornton) could see the defendant had a white plastic bag in his hand and a hammer,” added Mr Barton.

“The defendant was holding the hammer out in front of him…and said, ‘Open up (the till)!’”.

Chikomba, who “appeared calm”, was holding a knife in his other hand and “kind of fumbled it a bit”.

The female customer feared he was about to lunge at Mr Thornton with the five-inch blade.

“He again asked (Mr Thornton) to open (the till),” said Mr Barton.

The shopkeeper said he couldn’t open it and grabbed his phone to call police.

Chikomba, the son of an NHS worker, told Mr Thornton “not to do that”, but then lost his nerve and fled the scene.

He drove off in a Vauxhall Corsa which was later stopped by police on York Road. Officers found the hammer and the knife, as well as another blade inside the boot and a grey balaclava or Snood.

The hapless robber pointed at the balaclava and said, “That’s what I used”, then stopped himself when he realised he was incriminating himself. He was arrested and taken in for questioning, but remained silent.

Mr Thornton, whose family had run the business in the picturesque country village for over 20 years, said he was “really shaken” by the incident.

He said he had never experienced anything like it in the 16 years since taking over the running of the shop from his parents and didn’t feel safe at work anymore. He was now “scared for my colleagues’ safety”.

He said although Chikomba “didn’t seem very confident in what he was doing”, he felt like he was in “direct danger”.

Chikomba, of Cardigan Road, Headingley, admitted attempted robbery, two counts of possessing an offensive weapon in a public place and one count of carrying a blade.

The bespectacled defendant appeared for sentence via video link on Wednesday and sat meekly in the custody booth as he confirmed his name.

Khadmin Al’Hassan, for Chikomba, said it was “very bizarre” for his “softly-spoken” client to commit such a terrifying act.

“This was wholly out of character for this young man,” added Mr Al’Hassan.

“He has been suffering from mental-health issues for a significant period of time.”

He added, however, that Chikomba was over £1,000 in debt at the time, and it appeared that that was what prompted him to act in a “wholly irrational” way, “although he didn’t even know whether (trying to steal from the shop) was going to resolve his issues”.

He said Chikomba was in a “low, depressive” mood on the day in question and his problems stemmed from a traumatic childhood in his native Zimbabwe, where he was kidnapped for three weeks after his parents had fled the country.

He eventually joined his family in the UK and “since then he’s had various complications as a result of his distress (and) traumatic experience”.

“He’s managed to live a fairly law-abiding life and he’s involved in charity work,” added Mr Al’Hassan.

“He has helped other young people in his community.”

Chikomba, who has no previous convictions, had been “highly thought of” by his tutors who had provided character references for him.

He had a “very loving family”, a partner and had recently become a father for the first time. He was “extremely remorseful” for his actions.

Mr Al’Hassan said that Chikomba was in fact “extremely polite during this entire incident and then he left without further altercation”.

Judge Simon Hickey said that, notwithstanding Chikomba’s otherwise “impeccable character”, it had to be jail for a “knife and hammer-point attempted robbery on that Saturday afternoon…in a family-run store in the small North Yorkshire village of Summerbridge”.

He slammed Chikomba for terrifying Mr Thornton who “didn’t know what you were going to do”.

“You have done a great deal (of good) in the community,” added Mr Hickey.

“This is completely out of character.”

He said it was clear that Chikomba’s remorse was “genuine” and there was “little planning” before the raid which was “miles away from your address in Headingley”.

The judge said Chikomba was a “very responsible and loving father”, but it appeared that his “moderate depressive disorder” and debts had led to him becoming “overwhelmed” on the day in question “and you decided to go and do something about it and that was to rob the store and clear your debts”.

Chikomba will serve half of the 30-month jail sentence behind bars before being released on prison licence.