A FORMER soldier who saw active service in Bosnia and Northern Ireland has escaped a prison sentence for an armed robbery at a petrol station in a Northamptonshire village.
Jason Smith, of Hamsterly Park, Southfields, Northampton, who spent eight years in the British Army, had pleaded guilty to the armed robbery at the Ramco filling station in Brafield-on-the-Green at an earlier hearing.
Northampton Crown Court heard yesterday how Smith, aged 30, had carried out the raid at knife-point, but later dropped 45 in cash as the owner and several villagers gave chase.
Smith handed himself into police days after the hold-up on November 27.
The court heard that Smith had slid into a 'reactive depression' due to financial problems and the break-up with the mother of his child.
Martin Beddoe, defending, said that Smith had shown clear remorse for the incident and had made a full and frank admission.
"The extent of his depression is evident by the offence," he said. "The debts had become too much for him and he was having suicidal thoughts."
Station owner Suresh Patel and a group of villagers chased Smith down Bedford Road following the raid before he escaped, dropping the money bags and the knife.
Judge Nigel Daly, who gave Smith a two-year suspended sentence, told him: "You have pleaded guilty to robbery at the first opportunity.
"It is the first time you have been in court and you are of previous good character and here you are in relation to a very serious offence.
"You had considerable problems with your finances and then suffered a reactive depression brought on by the spiralling debts."
He called the decision to avoid giving Smith a custodial sentence a 'one-off' due to the steps he had taken to get out of debt since, but warned him that he would face jail if he committed another offence in the next two years.
The court heard that Smith's successful Army career was halted prematurely due to a back injury and he had struggled to come to terms with it.