Gunman walks free again as sentence appeal fails

Gary Smith claims he was on tranquillisers at the time of the robbery bid. Picture: Lesley Donald
Gary Smith claims he was on tranquillisers at the time of the robbery bid. Picture: Lesley Donald
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A TEENAGE gunman who carried out an armed robbery at his local store has walked free from court for a second time despite attempts by prosecutors to jail him.

Gary Smith was given 200 hours of community service by a judge at the High Court in Edinburgh for bursting into the shop waving a gun and demanding cash.

Prosecutors appealed the decision to set free the 18-year-old as “unduly lenient” but the sentence was backed yesterday by appeal court judges.

The move was today attacked for failing to offer a deterrent to such crimes, which could now be seen as “worth the risk”.

Smith, who was 17 at the time, left shopkeeper Khurram Mirza terrified along with a customer and a seven-year-old boy who shouted out: “He’s got a gun.”

The teenager screamed, “Give me the f****** money” as he approached the counter of the S&R Superstore in South Street in Armadale, West Lothian.

Smith, of Eastfield, Lanarkshire, later admitted assaulting Mr Mirza by presenting a gun or fake firearm at him, attempting to strike him with the weapon and attempting to rob him on April 7 last year.

In February, judge Lord Burns ordered Smith to perform unpaid work and to remain under supervision for three years.

Lord Burns had noted that Smith was a first offender who had surrendered to police in the wake of the robbery. The judge added that sparing him a jail term might give him a chance to avoid being “trapped in a cycle of crime”.

Advocate depute Gillian Wade QC, for the Crown, told the appeal court yesterday that Lord Burns had paid too much attention to Smith’s personal circumstances. She contended that retribution and deterrence were important, as well as rehabilitation of the offender.

But the appeal judges ruled that, despite the gravity of the crime, they could find no fault with Lord Burns.

Scottish Conservative Lothians MSP Cameron Buchanan said: “This seems like an unduly lenient sentence.

“The message it sends to others considering this kind of attack is that it’s worth the risk. It’s clearly a move made because our jails are overcrowded, and the courts are finding it exceptionally difficult to send people to jail.”

During the robbery, Smith’s hand began shaking as he held the weapon, and Mr Mirza decided to turn the tables on him. The shopkeeper pulled down the scarf that Smith was wearing over his face and recognised him as someone who had been in his shop on many occasions. Smith tried to hit the shopkeeper on the head with the weapon then fled empty handed from the store.

Firearms officers were later called out to a house which Smith frequented, but he was not there.

Smith later phoned police, in tears, and made a garbled confession, explaining that he could not remember much because he was “vallied out of his mind” on tranquillisers. He told officers he had robbed a shop with a BB gun but left with nothing.

The court heard that, despite police inquiries, the weapon used in the robbery bid was not recovered.

The prosecutor said it was the third time since 2011 that the shop run by Mr Mirza and his wife had been robbed.