Bookmakers’ robberies ‘out of character’ for man who used toy gun

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A former council employee who used a toy gun to rob two bookmakers is to be sentenced next week.

Darren Joseph Sweeney, of Greenwalk, pleaded guilty to two charges of robbery and two of possessing an imitation firearm with intent to cause fear of violence.

The charges relate to incidents at two branches of McLeans Bookmakers in the city on January 15.

The court hearing had to adjourned for a brief period to allow Sweeney to compose himself, as he was crying.

Derry Crown Court heard the 34-year-old entered the bookmakers on the Strand Road first.

He was carrying what was described as a ‘Winchester style shot gun’ and had his face covered with a scarf.

Sweeney approached the manager of the shop and demanded that money from the till and safe be placed into a plastic bag.

The manager did not have access to the safe but placed £364 in coins and notes into the bag.

The court heard he was badly shaken by the incident and a member of the public followed Sweeney as he left the shop.

He got into a black Vauxhall car and left the scene. The witness was able to take note of some of the number plate.

A short time later Sweeney entered a second McLeans Bookmakers in Foyle Street.

He was carrying the shot gun and again demanded money from the till and safe.

He was told there was no money in the safe but £1,150 was taken from the till and put into a plastic bag.

One of the employees of the bookmakers left and went into a nearby shop to phone police.

He was able to take a full note of the registration number of the car when Sweeney left the scene.

Police traced the 34-year-old as the owner of the car and went to his home address.

Sweeney arrived on foot a short time later and was arrested.

The car was parked behind his property and when officers searched Sweeney they found the keys for the vehicle.

During police interview he denied the offences.

He was allowed to make a phone call to his wife while in police custody and was overheard telling her there was money in a hall table.

Police searched the property and found £815.

Sweeney requested to be re-interviewed and made full admissions.

He told police the gun was a toy gun which was left in his home by his nephew and he threw it in the bin after the robberies.

Defence counsel Michael Boyd told the court his client suffers from complex medical and mental health problems.

He said Sweeney had his leg amputated in September last year and he is still recovering from the surgery.

Referring to the robberies, Mr Boyd told the court there was ‘absolutely no sophistication involved’.

He added that Sweeney has written letters of apology to the witnesses and in a chance meeting with one of them this week ‘there was an embrace and a direct apology’.

A number of character references were handed into the court and Mr Boyd urged the judge to consider this incident as a ‘one off and completely out of character’.

He said Sweeney had lost around £750 in the bookmakers earlier in the day, took a lot of diazepam tablets and ‘hatched this plan on the spur of the moment’.

The barrister added the 34-year-old is ‘unlikely to ever darken the door of the court again’.

Judge Phillip Babington adjourned sentencing until next week and Sweeney was released on continuing bail.