A robber from Northampton tried to choke a petrol station cashier, leaving him comatose and bleeding on the floor, before callously searching him and taking his car keys and driving off in his car.
Christopher Wooldridge’s victim was still unconscious when the police arrived at the Texaco service station on the A5 near Rugby after a customer arrived and raised the alarm.
After seeing a ‘harrowing’ CCTV recording of the attack, a judge at Warwick Crown Court remarked that there had been ‘a real and present danger of death.’
Concluding that there was ‘no end in sight’ to the danger Wooldridge poses to the public, Judge Andrew Lockhart QC imposed an extended ten-year prison sentence.
He will have to serve at least two-thirds of that, and will only be freed before serving the whole sentence if the Parole Board considers it safe to do so – and he will then be on licence for the rest of the term and for an additional ten years.
Wooldridge, 25, of Harleston Road, Northampton, pleaded guilty to attempting to choke or suffocate his victim Nilan Jayalathge with intent to commit an offence, robbery, making off without payment and two charges of aggravated vehicle taking.
Prosecutor Tom Kenning said that in August Wooldridge had been staying with his sister near Barnsley, but on August 29 they argued after they had both been drinking.
After she and her husband had gone to bed, Wooldridge took his sister’s Peugeot 307 and set off to drive back to Northampton – only to crash into the central barrier on the M1.
Seeing Wooldridge by the wreckage of the car, which had come to rest straddling two lanes, an HGV driver stopped and gave him a lift, dropping him off by the Texaco service station on the A5 at Gibbetts Lane, near Lutterworth, at just after 4am.
A CCTV camera then captured him walking towards the petrol station shop, stopping before he got there to put on latex gloves and a face covering, which he did not fully pull down.
Normally the shop door would be closed at that time of night, but there had just been a delivery and Mr Jayalathge had rolled the shutter up and opened the door to take it inside.
When Wooldridge walked into the shop, Mr Jayalathge ushered him out, explaining that he needed to go to the service window – but when he went back inside, Wooldridge followed him in.
He put down his rucksack, and when Mr Jayalathge bent to pick it up, Wooldridge grabbed him round the throat from behind ‘in such a way that he seemed to know what he was doing.’
The harrowing recording showed the cashier’s desperate struggle as Wooldridge clung on tightly round his neck, not relaxing his grip even when they fell to the floor.
After about 30 seconds Mr Jayalathge stopped struggling as he passed out, and there was some ‘involuntary jerking’ of his body as Wooldridge maintained his grip for another 50 seconds.
Mr Jayalathge had hit his head during the struggle, and as he lay in a pool of blood, Wooldridge searched him and took his car keys before going behind the counter and stealing cigarettes and packs of beer.
Wooldridge returned to the unconscious Mr Jayalathge and took money from his wallet, then helped himself to more cigarettes before leaving and driving off in his victim’s Vauxhall Astra at high speed across a verge onto the A5 – but later crashed it near Northampton, said Mr Kenning.
Another car had pulled onto the forecourt, and that customer found Mr Jayalathge and raised the alarm.
Mr Jayalathge was left vomiting blood and had a burst blood vessel in his eye as a result of being choked, and later said he feared working alone at the service station.
Mr Kenning added that Wooldridge had no fewer than six previous convictions for aggravated vehicle taking, and at the time was wanted on recall to prison for failing to comply with his licence after being freed from a sentence for kidnapping, during which he was said to have used a Taser on his victim.
Graeme Logan, defending, said Wooldridge was concerned at a probation officer’s assessment in a pre-sentence report that he is a dangerous offender, arguing that although he had had contact with the probation service, the report was written by an officer who ‘doesn’t know him at all.’
He argued that the offence should fall within a range of nine to 12 years, as set out in the sentencing guidelines for robbery, before credit from Wooldridge’s guilty pleas.
But Judge Lockhart responded: “This isn’t a robbery, this is strangulation with intent to commit a robbery. That’s what will be the lead sentence.”
Mr Logan, who argued it was the other way round, and that the strangulation was ‘part and parcel of the robbery,’ added: “He is shocked and appalled by the behaviour he exhibited in August.”
Jailing Wooldridge, Judge Lockhart told him: “Mr Jayalathge was working alone, providing a service to the public.
“In one of the most terrifying pieces of footage this court has had to witness, you approached him from behind and put your arm round his neck and you squeezed, and squeezed, and squeezed for a minute and 20 seconds in a clear attempt to suffocate him, and you left him on the floor unconscious.
“His body goes limp, his body begins twitching, and you hold, and you hold, and you hold, until he stops resisting.
“You stood up and, without a thought for him, you searched his pockets and took his money and his keys.
“The video of this is harrowing. The potential harm is the real and present danger of death. Where someone is left for dead, there can scarcely be a more serious offence.
“I agree with the assessment. I am satisfied you are dangerous. There is no end in sight to the risk you pose.”