Schizophrenic mugger sent to mental unit after Barnstaple robbery

Exeter Crown Court

Exeter Crown Court - Credit: Archant

A mugger who attacked a cashpoint customer after being refused a withdrawal by his own bank has been sent to a mental hospital. 

Charles Heeney was suffering with schizophrenia when he carried out the robbery in Barnstaple last year which left victim John Owen with a fractured hip. 

He lost his temper after being refused cash at the HSBC branch and took out his frustration by smashing a computer screen with his skateboard. 

The 21-year-old then walked round the corner into Cross Street where he saw Mr Owen using an ATM outside Lloyds Bank. 

He demanded his wallet and pushed him over as he snatched it and fled on foot, pursued by public spirited passers-by. They did not catch him but recovered the empty wallet. 

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Police tracked him down to his home where he still had the £85 stolen cash in his pocket. It will now be returned to its rightful owner. 

Mr Owen grabbed at the drawstring of Heeney’s hoodie during the attack and police were able to confirm that he was the mugger from DNA. 

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Heeney, of Gloster Road, Barnstaple, and formerly of Spiders Lane, Exmouth, was ruled to be unfit to plead at a trial at Exeter Crown Court last month. 

The jury concluded that he had committed the acts of robbery and criminal damage and his case was adjourned for further psychiatric reports. 

Judge Peter Johnson imposed a hospital order which means Heeney will be treated at a psychiatric unit in Weston-super-Mare until a tribunal decides he is well enough to released. 

He told him: “You pushed Mr Owen to the floor, causing his hip to fracture, which required surgery and led to limited mobility. 

“The police went to your address, where you made bizarre comments which seem to be associated with your mental disorder.” 

Mr Richard Crabb, prosecuting, said Heeney went into the HSBC branch in the High Street shortly before noon on September 14 last year. 

Mr Crabb said: “He wanted some money but there was not enough in his account and he had a disagreement with staff and hit a computer screen with a skateboard he was carrying. 

“He left and turned into Cross Street where he came across Mr Owen who had just withdrawn £30. He went up and said ‘give me the money’ and then grabbed the cash and wallet. 

“Mr Owen tried to get them back and was pushed over causing him to fall and suffer a serious injury.” 

Mr Owen spent a week in hospital with a fractured hip and is still using crutches. 

His wife Gabrielle said that by chance she was in the HSBC during the first incident and guessed it was the same man when she learned her husband had been robbed. 

Mr Brian Fitzherbert, defending, said two psychiatrists had written reports confirming that Heeney is suffering from a treatable mental illness and that a bed is available at a unit in Somerset. 

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