Two robbers who plotted armed raids at convenience stores across the Black Country have been jailed for 11 years each.
Michael Scanlon and Gavin Reilly had both originally denied conspiring to rob 23 stores across Wolverhampton, Dudley, Sandwell and Wombourne but were convicted at the end of a 24-day trial.
Wolverhampton Crown Court heard yesterday how Scanlon, aged 34, of Rocket Pool Drive, Bilston, had previous convictions covering a total of 53 offences, including 31 for theft.
Reilly, also 34, formerly of Tipton Road, Sedgley, had 12 previous convictions covering 58 separate offences, including a previous case of robbery in 2000.
Judge Amjad Nawaz said the pair had committed a 'planned and organised' series of robberies across the Black Country.
He said the conspiracy had involved the wearing of masks and dark clothing, the carrying of weapons and the use of stolen cars.
"There is very little in the way of mitigation, and quite a lot in the way of aggravating features," Judge Nawaz said.
"In one case, an axe was being raised above the head of one victim. He was told to get on his knees, with the threat that his head would be caved in if he didn't."
Judge Nawaz said while none of the victims suffered serious physical injuries, the robberies would have caused psychological damage to those concerned.
"We have seen CCTV image of staff trembling in fear, or hiding under the counter in one instance," said the judge.
"There is very little data about exactly how much was taken, but from the figures we have had, it has been ascertained that about £35,000 worth of cigarettes and £12,000 worth of cash was taken.
"This was in relation to just a handful of these offences, there were 23 offences in all, and I am satisfied that the final amount would be significantly greater."
Dc Ryan Matthews from West Midlands Police headed the investigation.
He added: "They used threats of violence, and I would hope that shopkeepers will feel safer now they have been sent to jail."
Mr Ronald Jaffa, for Reilly, said on his most-recent release from prison, he had difficulty finding somewhere to live because he was on licence.
"He ends up living on sofas with friends or in hostels, and he can't get work, there's no stability in his life," said Mr Jaffa.
He said Reilly now had a month-old child and realised he could not continue as he had done.
Mr Oliver Woolhouse, for Scanlon, said his client had not been present during all the robberies.
He said his only conviction for violence related to when he was 16 years old, and there was no evidence that he had himself used violence in any of the raids.Subscribe to our Newsletter