COPPID BEECH HOTEL FAKE GUN ROBBER JAILED by Aisha Iqbal
February 05, 2004
Cleon Cunningham, 26, pictured right, a Jamaican national who had been living in London, robbed the Coppid Beech Hotel last September along with two accomplices.
Terrified staff members were tied up with duct tape and left in the hotel corridor while the trio ransacked the office and broke into the safe, eventually making off with more than £16,000.
Last week a judge at Reading Crown Court jailed Cunningham for eight years for his part in the "substantial" and "frightening" robbery.
At an earlier hearing the court had been told that Cunningham and another man had entered an office behind the main hotel reception at the Coppid Beech Hotel at about 5am on September 1, 2003.
They forced the night watchman to take them to the accounts office, where the clerk had been counting the day's takings from the bar and nightclub.
One of the men held up a gun and said "you know what we are here for".
The robbers were joined by a third accomplice and the trio ransacked the office and broke into the safe.
Ironically they did not notice that the day's takings were
sitting at the side of the desk waiting to be taken away.
The court heard that the clerk and nightwatchman were tied up with duct tape and left in the
corridor outside the office.
A room services attendant who had come in to get the keys to open the kitchen was also threatened, tied up and left in the corridor.
The whole incident went on for 25 minutes and the trio fled with the money.
The three staff members were found by another staff member who had come to get the breakfast orders.
After a lengthy investigation, Cunningham was caught after police traced his DNA through the duct tape which was used to tie up the victims. His accomplices have still not been caught.
Sentencing Cunningham to eight years behind bars, Judge Charles Elly said there was "no doubt that this incident has had a serious and long-lasting effect" on his victims, although he gave Cunningham credit for his guilty plea.
"I accept that the firearm seen by the witnesses was imitation," he added. "But they may not have known that and an imitation can be just as frightening as a real one to a witness in a robbery.
"Tying people up and leaving them on the floor is clearly violence and there were implicit threats made by pointing the imitation firearm at the victims.
"But you did not inflict violence by hitting or wounding the victims and I take that into account.
"You are 26 and your past record is not particularly bad. But these matters are serious. A gun was used although it was not fired. It is fortunate that no injury resulted from this, but nevertheless I must consider the effect on your victims.
"Normally you would be looking at 10 to 12 years but I am making allowances for the fact that the violence was at the lower end of the scale.
"Nevertheless the least sentence I can pass is eight years and that is what I do pass."
Judge Elly added that following his sentence, Cunningham would probably be deported but should he return and commit any further offence in the UK he would face a life sentence.
"Bear that in mind if you ever think of committing an offence again in this country," he said.
Det Con Phil Woods, one of the officers involved in the investigation of the robbery, said after Cunningham's sentencing: "I hope this substantial sentence serves as a warning to people thinking of committing violent crime."