A Leamington man’s first-ever venture into crime saw him staging three armed shop robberies at convenience stores in the town within the space of less than a week.
James Dubrava had pleaded guilty to charges of attempted robbery, robbery and possessing an offensive weapon following two incidents on April 4.
He denied an earlier robbery, and the prosecution had planned to offer no evidence – until the judge asked for that to be reviewed, only for more evidence to come to light.
And Dubrava (30) of Ranelagh Terrace, Leamington, has now been jailed for nine years and ten months after he then changed his plea on that charge to guilty.
Prosecutor Edward Hollingsworth said that on March 30 two members of staff, a young man and a woman, were working in McColls in Stanley Court on the Sydenham Estate at 9.15pm.
The shop was due to close at 10pm, so the woman was at the back of the store cashing up one of the tills, leaving her colleague alone behind the counter when Dubrava came in.
He had his face covered by a balaclava mask and was armed with a knife and a hammer and shouted at the assistant: “Open your till and give me the money.”
As two customers fled and the other assistant returned and tried to press the panic button, Dubrava, who saw one till was empty, used the hammer to force open the other till.
He took the till drawer containing about £110 in cash and was seen running with it to his purple Ford Fiesta parked nearby.
But he had dropped the knife, and after his arrest it was found to match others in a block at his home – and it was his DNA later being found on it which led to him admitting responsibility.
Mr Hollingsworth said that the victim says it has had a massive effect on him, and he suffers flashbacks and is on edge whenever he is alone behind the counter.
A few days later, at 9pm on May 4, Dubrava, with his hood up and a scarf over his face, went into the Sainsbury’s store in Radford Road, Leamington, where the manager was behind the till.
Dubrava, who had a hammer in his pocket and a rucksack, demanded: “Take the money from the till and put it in the bag.”
When the manager pressed the panic button, Dubrava took out the hammer and began to hit the till, but the manager bravely tackled him and managed to get the hammer from him, suffering a cut to his finger as he did so.
As he then tried to hold on to him, Dubrava broke free and ran to the main doors, which had automatically locked when the panic button had been pressed, but managed to get out through another door on which his fingerprints were found.
Undeterred, he then headed to the Tachbrook Convenience store in Tachbrook Road, where the owner was working alone just minutes before he had been due to close at 11 o’clock.
Although Dubrava again had his hood up and a scarf over his face, the owner recognised him as someone who had used the store on a number of occasions.
Dubrava, who Mr Hollingsworth pointed out was of previous good character, came to the counter and began swinging at him with a metal dog chain, causing cuts which had to be glued at hospital.
As the owner tried to grab the chain he succeeded in pulling off an ornamental tag which had Dubrava’s address on it, and which helped the police identify him as the robber after he had escaped with the till containing £250-300 in cash.
Nick Devine, defending, said: “This is unusual, to find someone of the age of 30, who has been of entirely good character, who has suddenly leapt into offending at this level.”
He explained that there had been some distressing factors in Dubrava’s life, and to try to cope he had ‘turned to the consumption of serious hard drugs.’
Although he was earning at the time, he was not able to support his habit and turned to committing the offences.
“His remorse is genuine and heartfelt. His level of victim empathy is significant. Prior to March this year he could never have conceived himself being in the position of committing such offences,” added Mr Devine.
Jailing Dubrava, Judge Sarah Buckingham told him: “All your offences were committed within the space of a very few days.
“You were always going to be identified and arrested because, while these offences were planned, your attempt to hide your identity was inept.
“I accept that your insight into your offending and the remorse expressed by you is genuine.
“But these were pre-planned violent robberies, planned by you to be carried out when stores would be quiet, close to them closing.”