A ‘cowardly’ robber who recruited two teenaged boys to help him hold up Landkey village post office has been jailed.

A group of five who took part in the armed robbery were sentenced today (Friday, April 5) at Exeter Crown Court.

Joshua Foster left the owners of Lyncroft Stores terrified after he led a raid in which he and a 17-year-old boy brandished realistic looking imitation pistols.

He armed a 16-year-old boy with a knife and got him to stand by the door as lookout and to stop any customers coming in as he ordered owners John and Janette Stitt to hand over a cash box.

Foster organised the robbery on the evening of Saturday, January 26 because he was desperate for money to pay off debts he ran up gambling online and playing fixed odds terminals in betting shops

He enrolled his girlfriend Louise Hudson as the getaway driver and her ex boyfriend Thomas Sullivan to provide the car and one of the guns, and to case the post office to make sure it was empty.

The Landkey armed robbery group were jailed for a total of 14 years at Exeter Crown Court. Picture: ArchantThe Landkey armed robbery group were jailed for a total of 14 years at Exeter Crown Court. Picture: Archant

Foster was jailed for four years, Hudson for three years, six months, Sullivan for two years, four months and one boy to be detained for two years and four months and the other for two years by Judge David Evans.

Flashbacks and nightmares

Foster held his black gun to Mr Stitt's head and they fled with £105 sterling, 1,085 Euros and £600 worth of stamps.

They were caught because Sullivan had been in the shop a few days before and used a bank card to make a purchase, which enabled police to trace him.

The others were identified by good quality CCTV from the shop despite them trying to disguise themselves with hoodies, hats or sunglasses.

The gang were jailed after Mr Stitt read a powerful victim statement in which he revealed that he and his wife are both suffering flashbacks and nightmares.

Mr Stitt said: "It is very hard to get over the fact they went in thinking my wife would be on her own. It was the most despicable and cowardly act I can imagine."

His wife said: "I cannot get the image of Foster out of my head. He was so angry and aggressive and holding a gun to my husband's head. I honestly thought they were going to shoot him."

Foster, aged 37, of Hillside, George Nympton, near South Molton, and a 17-year-old boy, admitted robbery and possession of an imitation firearm.

Hudson, aged 33, of Hillside, George Nympton, Sullivan, aged 39, of Olympian Way, Culmstock, and the other boy, now aged 17, all admitted robbery. The teenagers cannot be named for legal reasons.

Judge Evans told the group: "This was pre-planned and you all knew that firearms were to be used to rob a village post office. You all knew what was planned.

"You all knew what the target was and the use to which the imitation were to be put and what individual roles you each would play.

"Mr and Mrs Stitt were terrified for themselves and for each other and have been left scared to work at their shop or be in their home above it and scared for the safety of their staff.

"Mrs Stitt thought her husband was going to be shot. Neither could have known the firearms were imitations."

Rachel Drake, prosecuting, said Mr and Mrs Stitt were in Lyncroft Stores and Post Office at 6.18pm when Foster and the two boys came in.

Foster and one of the boys had guns and the owners thought it was a prank until Foster kept shouting 'give us your money, give us all your money, just give it to us'.

Mr Stitt handed over a cash box and was about to hand over more cash when all three ran off towards Sullivan's silver Mondeo, which was later found burned out at Quince Honey Farm.

Gambling addiction

Richard Crabb, for Foster, said he met Hudson after moving to Devon from Lincolnshire for a residential drug rehabilitation course and was living with her at the time of this offence.

He had large gambling debts as a result of an addiction to online betting and fixed odds machines. He has shown remorse and wants to apologise to Mr and Mrs Stitt.

Barry White, for Hudson, says she has never been in trouble before and her involvement in this robbery has led to the loss of custody of her three children and her home.

She has a background of poor mental health and taken an overdose a few days before the incident. Her only involvement was to drive the car.

Peter Seigne, for Sullivan, said he was exploited by the others because he suffers from autism and a dependent personality disorder.

He had previously paid Hudson for sex and went on to pay her for friendship, handing over £30,000 over five years.

He had never been in trouble before and has references from family and former employers. He has written a letter of apology to the victims.

Edward Bailey and Emily Pitts, for the boys, said they were immature and naive and did not realise what they were being led into.

Both have shown remorse and would benefit more from community sentences than detention.

'Golden nugget'

DI Phil Gray said police were able to identify the suspects after the shop owners went back through their CCTV footage from the days leading up to the robbery.

They found footage of one of the men purchasing some items with a debit card a few days prior to the robbery, and were able to trace the card holder.

But DI Gray said it was thanks to the 'golden nugget' debit payment that police were able to secure and charge all five suspects within the space of a week.

"I want to thank all the teams who worked tirelessly on this job," he said.

"It was the intelligence team, the firearms team, the investigation team who all worked around the clock that week to make sure we got a quick result and were able to safeguard North and West Devon from these dangerous individuals.

"If it wasn't for them and the golden nugget of the victims giving us the info about the debit card payment, and the fantastic intelligence work that linked all the people, I don't think we'd have been in this position as soon as we were.

"Without the due diligence of the victims and their great support, it could have taken us a lot longer, although I'm confident we would have caught them all."