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‘I was forced to rob the shop’ - city robber says ‘thugs’ running prisons threatened his family

Ryan Smith has been jailed for a 10 year extended sentence after his 13th robbery in Norwich. Picture: Norfolk Police

Ryan Smith has been jailed for a 10 year extended sentence after his 13th robbery in Norwich. Picture: Norfolk Police

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A city robber has blamed “thugs” who run prisons for coercing him into his latest shop robbery with an imitation firearm.

Ryan Smith was handed a 10-year extended jail term for his 13th Norwich robbery since 1998 at Norwich Crown Court on Wednesday.

But in a letter to Judge Anthony Bate, he said he was being pursued over a drug debt gathered while in prison for his previous robberies.

The letter read: “I was forced with violence to rob the shop with a water pistol. I was told my mum would have a hole in her head and my sister and partner would be raped.

“I have never hurt anyone in my life. I have been sentenced, rightly so, for the mental suffering I have put people through, but this is not drug-related.

“I have been on a script for the last year, starting to rebuild my life with my mum and met a girl I have fallen in love with.

“My heart was torn and I didn’t know what to do. I tried to kill myself, thinking if I was dead, they would leave my loved ones alone. After having my ribs broken and my face stamped on, I could see no other way. 
“This is my fault my family lives under threat. They have even been to my mum’s home.

“I do not even know if I will be able to live with what I have done as I have found religion.”

He added prison was “such a harsh environment, run by thugs”.

The court heard on Wednesday how Smith was deemed a “high risk to the public” after robbing the teenage member of staff at the Catton Grove Co-Op on July 9.

Chris Youell, prosecuting, said Smith entered the shop around 8.45pm, and as the cashier turned to get him a pack of Old Holborn, slipped a note and carrier bag onto the counter while flashing the black handle of what appeared to be a pistol.

The note read: ‘Put the money from the till in the bag, keep quiet and nobody gets hurt’.

£500 was stolen from two tills, in a robbery which had the hallmarks of Smith’s previous robberies, Mr Youell said. “He has been released on licence and done it yet again,” he said.

“He started committing robberies in 1998. He began with knife-point robberies of people on buses or at cash points. He moved on to robbing shopkeepers.

“There were two robberies of lone women in shops in 2013 and with no suspects at the time, a retired detective constable recognised the description and as a result of what he told colleagues, Mr Smith was arrested.”

Andrew Oliver, mitigating for Smith, said he had “tried to settle down” after release from prison in summer 2017 but had been tracked down by “a gang who had supplied him with drugs in custody”.

“A large amount of pressure was put on him to pay the debt which had accumulated to £1,000,” said Mr Oliver.

“He had suffered at least two serious beatings and had tried to take his own life in an effort to relieve his immediate family from the pressure he felt he was being put under.

“He was told his mother was going to have a gun put to her head and his partner would be seriously sexually assaulted. These were matters he reported to the police before this offence.” Mr Oliver added Smith could have “a fighting chance” if his next release was more effective.

Judge Anthony Bate jailed Smith, of Jewson Road, for six years with an extended jail term of four years for robbery, and a concurrent six-year sentence for the imitation firearm.

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