Knife-carrying muggers used a “boy in a man’s body” as a fool to drive them on a midnight crime spree.
Christopher Birkett was charged with being involved in five street robberies but denied it immediately, saying he had a knife held to his throat and was told to drive, and he had been too frightened to refuse as he thought he was going to be killed.
On Friday, he was cleared by a jury at Burnley Crown Court of the robberies, after a trial where he was accompanied by a specialist intermediary to help him understand.
He was said to be a boy in a man’s body, with a reading age of a child less than eight.
Two Colne men, Peter Hammerton, of Windy Bank, and David Brogan, of Langroyd Road, were jailed for eight years and eight months in February after admitting the street robberies carried out in a 90-minute blitz in Burnley, Padiham, Great Harwood and Accrington.
The court was told the men had befriended Birkett, and both had records for violence. Birkett’s car was seen at the scene of the robberies. It was tracked from Colne, with Hammerton and Brogan seen on CCTV at a petrol station, and at Wetherspoons, Burnley.
He told his solicitor, Gillian Francis, but not the police, that another man, Adam Shaun Miller, who lived in a caravan between Nelson and Colne was also in the car.
He said Miller had put his arm round his throat held a knife to him and told him to drive. There were also threats to burn down his family home in Railway Street, Nelson.
When police searched Birkett’s car they found clothes seen to have been worn during the robberies in the boot, and there were also two Stanley knives. One of them had the DNA of a man slashed across the arm during a robbery. Two more knives were found in his bedroom. Analysis of his phone showed a conversation between Brogan and Miller in the hours leading up to the robberies.
Mr Mark Lamberty (prosecuting) said the five robberies were carried out by hooded men. In the first, in Accrington, at 11-10pm, on September 2nd last year, warehouseman Nicky Lee Baxendale was left with a 2in. gash in his arm and his £200 phone was taken.
Shortly afterwards, warehouseman Jake McMillan was grabbed by the throat and held at knife point in Great Harwood and searched until robbers found his phone, cash and house keys. A silver chain was ripped from his neck.
Padiham pensioner Kenneth McGough was robbed after midnight near the Flying Dutchman in Burnley Road, Padiham. The crime was recorded on CCTV, and showed Brogan punching Mr McGough to the ground.
Friends Benjamin Robson and Mark Harvey were robbed in Padiham Road, Burnley, near the George 1V pub. A knife was held to Mr Robson’s chin and he was held by the collar and shaken and Mr Harvey was threatened with cuts as his pockets were rifled. The robbers took a phone and portable Play Station.
The final robbery was in Kiddrow Lane when Jake Pounder and Stephen Moore were held up at knife point. Mr Moore’s iPod, phone, lighter and wallet were taken, but his keys were returned.
Mr Lamberty said Birkett was driving his car the following day when he was arrested.
He told police: “I can’t believe it, I don’t have it in me.”