Heroic staff refuse to hand over cash to armed robbers who used weapons in late night raids on corner shop and two service stations

PUBLISHED: 16:49 31 July 2019 | UPDATED: 17:30 31 July 2019

Two late night filling stations and a convenience store were targetted by armed robbers. Businesses raided include the Robin Hood filling sttaion in March, the Applegreen petrol station in Chatteris and St Peter's Road store in March. Today the culprits were jailed.  Picture: IAN CARTER

Two late night filling stations and a convenience store were targetted by armed robbers. Businesses raided include the Robin Hood filling sttaion in March, the Applegreen petrol station in Chatteris and St Peter's Road store in March. Today the culprits were jailed. Picture: IAN CARTER

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Heroic staff manning late night stores saw off the threat by two balaclava wearing cousins who unsuccessfully used monkey wrenches and an axe to try and rob them.

Craig Downer (left), 29 and Michael Esaw, 31, were each jailed today (Thu) for four years and six months following at a trial at Cambridge Crown Court. 
The two men were armed with weapons when they targeted the three locations within the space of just half an hour on January 25 this year. Picture: POLICE 
Craig Downer (left), 29 and Michael Esaw, 31, were each jailed today (Thu) for four years and six months following at a trial at Cambridge Crown Court. The two men were armed with weapons when they targeted the three locations within the space of just half an hour on January 25 this year. Picture: POLICE

In a 30 minute spell the two men used threats and brute force to try and steal the takings from two service stations and a corner shop.

Detective Constable Victoria Speirs said the pair "thought nothing of going into the shops armed with weapons, terrifying staff in the process.

Craig Downer, 29 and Michael Esaw, 31, were each jailed today (Weds) for four years and six months following at a trial at Cambridge Crown Court.

The two men were armed with weapons when they targeted the three locations within the space of just half an hour on January 25 this year.

Between 8.50pm and 9.19pm they demanded cash from the three stores, starting with Premier Stores in St Peters Road, March.

The store manager was alone in a back office and saw Downer, of York Road, Wisbech, and Esaw, of Low Road, Fenstanton, enter the shop on CCTV.

Downer and Esaw were both wearing balaclavas and armed with spanners. They shouted at him and demanded money from the till, but were left confused when the manager asked them what till they were demanding the cash from.

The pair left the scene empty handed, chased by the manager.

They left in a Nissan Micra and five minutes later targeted the Robin Hood service station in Wimblington Road.

Downer approached the till; carrying a monkey wrench and demanded the service station worker put money in a bag he was carrying.

The worker stated he couldn't open the till, at which point Downer hit the till with the wrench and Esaw hit it twice with an axe. The pair caused £600 of damage to the till but again left empty handed.

At 9.19pm, Downer and Esaw entered the BP service station in Applegreen services, Chatteris.

Esaw remained at the entrance while Downer approached the till and again demanded cash from the staff member.

The staff member refused and Downer hit the till with the monkey wrench. The till fell to the floor and Downer tried to pull the wires from it, with no success.

For a third time, the pair left empty handed and caused £600 of damage to the till.

In all three attempted robberies, the men were wearing the same clothing and, between them, they carried a blue and red Lonsdale rucksack.

Officers out in the county on patrol were made aware of the make and model of their car, together with a partial number plate.

One officer spotted the car at 9.46pm in Willingham but was unsuccessful in getting it to stop. A second officer then spotted the car at just after 1.30am in St Ives and followed.

Downer and Esaw were seen to stop near Crystal Lakes Caravan Park before running from the vehicle on foot.

Officers searched the area and the pair were found inside a caravan at the park.

The key to the Nissan was found in Downer's trouser pocket, with both men wearing the same clothing as in the three attempted robberies.

Further items of clothing used in the robberies were strewn around the caravan - with a green jacket found in the kitchen, a black balaclava found hidden under a sheet and a further balaclava recovered from a nearby ditch.

Both men denied the offences and they stood trial at Cambridge Crown Court from Tuesday, 9 July.

However, Esaw pleaded guilty on the day of his trial, while Downer admitted the offences the following day, after jurors had been selected.

DC Speirs, who investigated together with DC James Bennett, said: "Esaw and Downer thought nothing of going into the shops armed with weapons, terrifying staff in the process.

"I would like to applaud the bravery of the shop manager who chased them from the March store and others for not handing over any money.

"Both defendants were brazen in the way they entered the locations, but on all three occasions they left empty-handed and there was strong evidence against them."

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