A Luton robber who fled the country to join the French Foreign Legion in a bid to escape his past has been jailed for two years.

 

The 27 year old had committed the robbery at the Co-op store in Birdsfoot lane in Luton to pay off a debt to a shadowy figure said to have been threatening him and his family.

 

After committing the robbery in which he stole £300 from the shop, he handed the money over and then decided to head to France and enlist as a Legionaire.

 

But when he was booted out after only a month, he returned to Luton to face the music.

 

Mr Sprawson who defended the man at Luton crown court said his client had followed in the footsteps of the fictional hero Beau Geste.

 

He was referring to the adventure novel by P.C. Wren about the adventures of three English brothers who separately join the French Foreign Legion after a valuable jewel is stolen from the country house of a relative. The story was made into a Hollywood film in 1939 starring Gary Cooper, Ray Milland and Robert Preston.

 

The man pleaded guilty to two offences of robbery and two of possessing a knife.

 

Max Hardy prosecuting said on the evening of April 20th this year he was in the car park of the Co-op store in Barton-le-Clay.

 

It was around 6.15pm and as a 64 year old woman returned to her Vauxhall Corsa with her shopping, He approached her and demanded “Give me your car keys or you will get hurt.”

 

Mr Hardy said with that he produced a knife and the terrified woman handed over her car keys.

 

Judge Richard Foster hearing the case was told the man jumped into the vehicle, handed the woman her shopping back and before speeding off told her “I am really sorry.”

 

The court heard it was around an hour later when he struck at Co-op store in Birdsfood Lane.

 

A woman cashier was behind the counter serving customers and having parked the Corsa outside, was loitering by the wine and spirits section.

 

Then, when the coast was clear and the other shoppers had left he went up to the cashier, placed a bottle of wine on the counter, too kout his knife and told her “Right now, open the till.”

 

He reached over to the till and snatched £300 before fleeing from the shop and making off in the Corsa.

 

It was recovered by police the next day having been left in Canterbury Road in Luton.

 

Police examined CCTV footage obtained from the Birdsfoot Lane store and quickly identified the defendant

 

But it wasn’t until June 16th that he was arrested after flying back to Luton from Spain.

 

He told the police he had robbed the woman of her car in Barton-le-Clay because he needed it to commit the second robbery.

 

Mr Hardy said he then told the police how he was being pressured to pay back a debt and was being threatened.

 

He said following the robbery he had left the UK in May and had travelled to France to join the French Foreign Legion.

 

Stuart Sprawson defending,  said the debts he had run up, meant he was concerned his welfare and other family members and it was why he had committed the offences that evening.

 

He said after the robberies he paid off the debt, but decided to get out of the country.

 

Mr Sprawson told the court “He decided he would disappear as a latter day Beau Geste in France and signed up.”

 

The court was told after a month in the Legion, it was decided the new recruit was “unsuitable” and he was kicked out.

 

Judge Foster was told he made his way to Spain and contacted the British Embassy.

 

He confessed to what he’d done back in Luton and after flying home was arrested by police waiting for him at Luton Airport.

 

Passing sentence on the man, the judge told him “These were despicable offences”

 

He said the defendant who had previous convictions for a variety of offences, had managed to stay out of trouble for four years until the robberies when he had then embarked on a “spree”

 

The judge said both robberies had been frightening experiences for his two female victims, but he said he accepted there was a background to the latest offending involving “some pressure”.

 

He acknowledged that the man had shown remorse and had pleaded guilty to his crimes straight away.

 

He was jailed for two years.