A DESPERATE drug addict armed with a knife carried out a robbery as staff were closing a Co-op store late at night.

William Lancaster, 42, put on a balaclava and confronted three members of staff who were locking up and about to leave the premises in Newton Hall, Durham, at 10pm on November 13.

Holding a kitchen knife he led them to an office where he told one of the women to put the contents of a small safe into a carrier bag.

Durham Crown Court was told that he left with £2,097 in the bag, taking off the balaclava as he went out of the door.

David Wilkinson, prosecuting, said by chance the father of one of the staff members was waiting outside the store, in Carrhouse Drive, to pick her up from work and saw Lancaster removing the balaclava.

Police were contacted and, arriving a short time later, were pointed in the direction Lancaster was seen heading.

He was found hiding in a nearby garden, still with the knife, the balaclava, gloves and a small amount of heroin.

A bag containing money was also retrieved from Lancaster, who initially denied the offence.

But, appearing at the crown court, Lancaster, of Thomas Street, Sacriston, admitted robbery, plus possession of an offensive weapon and a class A drug.

Paul Donoghue, mitigating, said Lancaster led a trouble-free life for more than a dozen years, until the breakdown of a long-term relationship, partly due to his heavy drinking.

Mr Donoghue said Lancaster also developed a drug habit which culminated in him being jailed for 20 months for low level street dealing.

“He was released about five months ago and acknowledges turning again to the misuse of heroin.

“He has found himself with an increased drug dependency and accrued debts to a dealer.

“That led him to carry out this crime way above anything he has previously been involved in.”

Mr Donoghue said although armed with a knife Lancaster made it clear to the store staff he did not want to use it, providing they followed his instructions.

Jailing him for four years and eight months, Judge Christopher Prince told Lancaster it must have been a terrifying ordeal for the victims.

“It was a planned offence, aggravated by the carrying of the knife, targeting a large sum of money.”

He also ordered Lancaster to pay a statutory surcharge of £120.