Steven Norton, 51, had parked up at the Moto Services in Wetherby with a boot full of potential weapons including an axe, an arrow and a dismantled pair of shears, York Crown Court heard.
He then went into the service station and walked up to the Burger King counter where a 21-year-old woman was assisting another customer, said prosecutor Rob Galley.
CCTV footage of the incident appeared to show Norton talking to the woman and pointing to something behind him.
Then, without warning, he pulled a “murderous-looking” machete out of his coat and brandished it as the “petrified” woman reeled backwards.
Norton, who was wearing a black cap and Covid mask, then appeared to “bottle it” and walked off past shoppers including children, who were blissfully unaware of what had occurred until a quick-thinking young woman heard the Burger King worker “shouting and screaming” to her colleagues and then saw Norton break into a “light jog” as he left the shopping centre and headed to his 4x4 vehicle.
Mr Galley said the named 20-year-old woman ran after Norton and took a photo of his registration plate as he took off his mask and drove off from the car park.
She alerted police and gave them the registration number which they used to trace the 4x4 to an address in Pershore, Worcestershire, where officers found the vehicle parked on another man’s drive.
Mr Galley said Norton had sold the vehicle to this unsuspecting man to “distance himself” from the crime after heading south following the machete incident.
The named car buyer showed them the weapons he had found inside the boot, including the machete.
Norton denied that the other items – including an axe, shear blades and an arrow - were weapons and that they were used for gardening.
The prosecution ultimately accepted his claims because there was “no evidence” they were intended to be used as weapons.
Further police enquiries traced Norton to an address in Durham, where he lived with his wife.
He was arrested two days after the incident and brought in for questioning.
Norton told officers he had been short of money when he turned up at the petrol station and was “trying to get credit” for fuel, but then claimed it was a case of mistaken identity.
CCTV footage showed that he hadn’t filled up his car, said Mr Galley.
He said the incident, on November 5, 2020, had left the victim “absolutely petrified”.
She initially thought he was trying to shoplift, but he then “reached into his coat (and) she saw some hand grips”.
“She thought it might be a firearm,” added Mr Galley.
“He removed the item from the coat and raised the machete in front of him. It’s across his chest. (The victim) backs well off.
“Within moments he then makes off and (he’s) still got the machete out.”
Norton, of Billy Row, Durham, was charged with affray and six counts of possessing a bladed article.
He ultimately admitted affray and carrying a machete but denied five other allegations of possessing an offensive weapon. Not-guilty verdicts were recorded for these matters.
He appeared for sentence today (Friday, May 20) in a state of anxiety knowing jail was practically inevitable given his record, which includes three previous convictions for carrying a blade or offensive weapon from 2005, namely a lock knife, Samurai sword and a hand axe.
Brian Russell, mitigating, said: “It’s very hard to describe what exactly Mr Norton was trying to do (at the service station).
“He didn’t appear to have any money – perhaps his long-term aim was to perhaps extort some money.”
Mr Russell said Norton had turned his life around since the incident and at the time of the offences he was “in difficulties with his relationship” and having problems with substance misuse.
He added that Norton, who once worked in welding and fabrication, was looking to find new employment.
Judge Sean Morris said Norton had “absolutely terrorised” the young woman who was “working hard during the pandemic to make a living”.
He told Norton: “You had armed yourself with a murderous weapon – a machete, for heaven’s sake – and you strolled into a busy shopping centre, a service station where there are members of the public around, and what was in your mind, I wonder?
“It’s probably more likely than not that your intention was to get some money, but you decided against it in the end.
“To wield a murderous-looking weapon like that could only have been intended to cause fear of very serious violence.
"Anybody who steps out into a busy shopping centre and produces a weapon like this cannot expect anything other than an immediate prison sentence because the courts have to deter others.”
Norton was jailed for 22 months and he will serve half of that sentence behind bars before being released on prison licence.
The judge said he would be awarding £250 of public funds to the brave woman who ran after Norton and got his registration plate which proved vital to the police investigation.
He said the woman, from Newcastle, would be invited to receive a commendation from the High Sheriff of North Yorkshire at the Crown Court.