POLICE have hailed the bravery of a petrol station assistant who was sprayed in the face with an unknown substance during a burglary.
She was working alone at Esso New Seaham station, on Stockton Road, Seaham, when two men entered the shop shortly before 4am on Sunday January 23.
One of the two, whom she recognized as Alan Paul Lawrence, approached the counter and pushed an object towards her face, spraying her with a liquid that made her face tingle.
She covered her face, telling him he didn’t need to do this and Lawrence told her that he had watered down the contents of the canister.
Lawrence then ordered him to open the two crates, from which he recovered between £150 and £200, before emptying the cigarette cases of around 40 packets and putting them in a bag.
He told his accomplice, Callum Michael Grice, who was standing in the doorway holding a baton, to, “Get the vapes.”
Grice grabbed the full display, before leaving the scene, dropping some of the vapes as they fled.
The pair fled but were quickly located by PCs David Robinson and Jack Smith as they attempted to hide in nearby bushes behind a bus stop.
Colleagues assisted the victim and secured the scene.
Grice was found in possession of a stun gun disguised as a torch, as well as the extendable baton.
Crime scene investigators found an airgun nearby, which was linked to Lawrence through DNA analysis.
Both men were charged and remanded in custody within 24 hours of their arrest.
Both later admitted a charge of robbery.
Read more: Couple jailed for armed robbery at Seaham petrol station shop
Lawrence, 32, of no fixed address, who had only recently been released from a previous prison sentence, also admitted to owning a fake firearm and emitting a noxious substance, on the grounds that it was an “unknown liquid”.
The court was told it was now suggested to be a hand sanitiser.
Grice, 24, of Margaret Street, Seaham, also admitted possession of a prohibited weapon, the taser, and an offensive weapon, the baton.
Lawrence, who has 44 prior convictions for 82 offenses, was sentenced to 63 months in prison, while Grice, who has 13 prior convictions for 25 prior offenses, was sentenced to 51 months in prison.
The court heard the victim, who initially feared she had been blinded, would have been psychologically harmed by such an incident at her workplace.
Sergeant Victoria Ford-Stubbs, of Peterlee CID, said: ‘It was a terrifying ordeal for the victim and we commend her for her bravery throughout the investigation.
“We will always take strong action against criminals, especially those who put members of our communities at risk.
“We are pleased that Lawrence and Grice were given custodial sentences to reflect their criminal behavior.”
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