A masked thug who wielded a sawn-off shotgun during a terrifying store raid before being fought off by a shopkeeper will not go to jail – because he is so young and impressionable.
But today the identity of the teenager behind the bungled robbery attempt can be revealed as Jack Phillips – after reporting restrictions keeping it hidden were lifted.
Phillips, who was 17 at the time, was fought off by Ranvir Bassi. With the weapon pointed at her face and her seven-year-old daughter clinging to her skirt, the 35-year-old refused to hand over money, pushed the gun away and chased the masked raider to the door of her shop in Stafford. But a judge at the town’s crown court has ruled that Phillips should be spared a custodial sentence – to the disappointment of Mrs Bassi who said she was shocked he had not been put behind bars. Under the Firearms Act anyone who uses a gun with intent should receive a custodial sentence – unless there are ‘exceptional circumstances’.
Recorder Michael Elsom said Phillips’ age and the fact others had told him to carry out the offence made it an exceptional case and that the mandatory period of three years in jail should not be imposed.
Mr Elsom told him: “[The prosecution] can’t exclude the possibility that what you did on November 4 was done under the direction of others more criminally experienced than yourself, or under pressure. I have reports which suggest you are a person particularly susceptible to pressure. There must be absolutely no doubt that what you did was a very dangerous thing indeed, should anyone think I have forgotten the undoubted bravery of Mrs Bassi.
“If they had the advantage, as I have, of seeing the recording of what occurred, no-one who saw that can think it was anything other than a thoroughly frightening incident. Mrs Bassi behaved with extreme bravery – she didn’t know the gun you had in your hand was quite incapable of being fired.”
The judge ordered that Mrs Bassi be given a £500 reward for her bravery. She was shutting the shop 10 minutes early to visit her son Gurdip, eight, who was in hospital suffering from eczema, when Phillips stormed in at 8.20pm. She was in the stock room with her daughter when they heard shouting – and within seconds they were confronted by the gunman.
Mrs Bassi screamed ‘Get out of my shop’ and pushed him backwards towards the door. As he stumbled onto the street she locked up and called the police.
Mrs Bassi said at the time that she was spurred into action by hearing her daughter’s cries. Phillips, now aged 18, and formerly of Stafford but now living in Middlesbrough, admitted offences of attempted robbery, possessing a firearm with intent to commit robbery and possessing a prohibited weapon.
He was given two years detention, suspended for two years, ordered to carry out 240 hours unpaid community work and given a six-month curfew. The video of Mrs Bassi tackling him was put on the internet by Staffordshire Police in a bid to catch the offender – and it quickly went viral. Phillips, though, had been ‘seemingly bragging’ about being in the footage on YouTube, the court heard previously.
Police found the defendant’s trainers near Mrs Bassi’s shop in Rickerscote Road and the shotgun discarded among old bike frames.
Its stock had been crudely cut down and the barrel shortened. And the force’s armorer said it was an old weapon in a poor state that could have been put into working condition. It was loaded with a live 12-bore round.
Mr Michael Anning, defending, said Phillips didn’t persist in his threats and the raid was over in a short period of time. He had been under pressure in relation to a debt he allegedly owed and the gun was given to him by others to commit the offence, the court heard.
Mrs Bassi’s family have run the store for 19 years and she insists they will not be forced out. But the raid badly affected her daughter, who suffered from nightmares and flashbacks.
Mrs Bassi said she was surprised to hear her attacker had not been jailed, adding: “I’m shocked. I just want to put it all behind me and move on now, and just forget about it.”
Chief Insp Jane Hewett said: “I would like to commend Mrs Bassi on her bravery. She showed tremendous courage.”