Escaped prisoner who threatened staff at Tesco and Prospect filling stations with a knife gets eight years behind bars

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An escaped prisoner who robbed two Axminster garages during a 14-day crime spree has been jailed.

Jon Stephens fled from prison while on day release and moved to the West Country where he left shop staff at four different small businesses terrified by his knifepoint attacks.

He was caught on CCTV but could not be identified by police because he wore disguises, including the distinctive stripy Where’s Wally outfit.

He targeted shops and filling stations in Axminster and Bude and was caught after a brave businesswoman in Holsworthy, North Devon, refused to hand over money and chased him out of her shop.

Stephens, aged 27, pleaded with a judge to be sent back to jail because he said the four months in which he was the run were much worse than the nine years he had spent behind bars.

He had previously been jailed indefinitely in 2005 for public protection for two street robberies of elderly men in Wales.

Stephens admitted four robberies and absconding from custody and was jailed for eight years and four months by Judge Francis Gilbert, QC, at Exeter Crown Court.

Miss Janice Eagles, prosecuting, said Stephens absconded from Prescoed Prison in Pontypool on September 22.

He moved to Devon to be with a woman from Axminster but moved to Bude in Cornwall to carry out his first robbery at the Kandy Shop a week before Christmas.

His next attack was on the Prospect Filling Station in Axminster where owner David Kelland was robbed of £200 as he shut up on Christmas Eve night.

The CCTV of this robbery showed Stephens wearing a Where’s Wally style black and white outfit and carrying two knives.

He struck again on December 29, where he emptied both tills at the Tesco filling station in Axminster.

He moved up to North Devon for his final raid at the Bazaar shop in Holsworthy.

Miss Eagles said owner Rita Lillicrap, aged 59, defied Stephens as he threatened her with a nine inch kitchen knife and shouted to neighbouring shops for help.

She said: “He pointed the knife to within a foot of her but then left. She tried to get to the door to chase him but was blocked by members of the public who had come to help.”

A major police search involving the force helicopter ended with his arrest in Axminster two days later.

Mark Jackson, defending, said Stephens has served almost nine years in jail for his previous robberies and was completely unprepared for life on the outside when he absconded.

He said: “He has been in jail since he was 19 and is completely institutionalized. He describes his four-and-a-half months of freedom as the worst of his life.”

Mr Jackson said his client wanted the court to impose a life sentence on him.

But Judge Gilbert told him: “These offences caused all your victims considerable fear and distress. These are very serious offences committed while you were on the run.

“On each occasion you threatened the victims with a knife or knives. You ask for a life sentence but that would be well outside the sentencing guidelines.”

Stephens shouted abuse at the judge as he was taken out of the dock and shouted: “I’ll be back next week when I stab someone.”

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