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Raiders who tied up chef face jail
Published 17/12/12

TWO armed men who broke into a pub and bound a chef to a chair will go to jail.

Thomas Somarakis and Benjamin Sinclair raided the Three Horseshoes pub in Oxford Road, Benson, in the early hours of July 7.

When chef Daniel Merritt disturbed them, he was threatened with a knife, punched and then strapped to the chair with tape in a “horrific ordeal”.

The raiders left but were caught by police after crashing their getaway car.

Sinclair, 22, of Blue Mountains, Wallingford, denied aggravated burglary, false imprisonment, having a bladed weapon in a public place and aggravated vehicle taking but was convicted on Wednesday after a three-day trial at Reading Magistrates’ Court.

Somarakis, 21 of Radnor Road, Wallingford, had pleaded guilty.

The court heard that Mr Merritt had finished his shift at the pub and gone upstairs to his flat when he thought he heard a bang downstairs at about 1.30am.

He checked to see where the noise was coming from but could see no sign of anybody so returned to his room.

About an hour later, he heard footsteps coming from the living room of his flat and shouted who was there but received no reply.

Moments later, the men appeared in his room. Somarakis was wearing a balaclava and holding a meat cleaver while Sinclair had a bandana on and was holding a 9in or 10in kitchen knife.

In a statement read out in court, Mr Merritt said that at first he thought the men were friends playing a practical joke.

Then the burglars asked him whether he was alone and where the safe was. He told them it was in the office but he didn’t have a key.

Sinclair then forced his way into the office and asked him for money. The chef said he was threatening and the knife was held to his throat for 30 seconds.

Mr Merritt said: “He was saying to me, ‘don’t make me slit your throat’. I started to think this could be the end of my life. I couldn’t give him the answer he wanted and this worried me seriously.”

He had 5 in his pocket and some tobacco, which he gave to the men.

Sinclair told Somarakis to put a strip of black tape across Mr Merritt’s eyes and then the men left him alone in the cellar for about five minutes.

Mr Merrit said he managed to remove the tape from his eyes in their absence but when the men returned Sinclair swore at him and made Somarakis put five or six layers of tape across his eyes to prevent him from being able to see.

When the chef’s trousers slipped, the men joked and Sinclair hit him with the knife on the exposed area. He was then punched in the stomach and told to lie on his front before being stamped on.

Sinclair told the chef to tell police that three Polish men had carried out the raid and warned him that they would return if they heard detectives were searching for them in Milton Keynes.

The two burglars left the cellar but Sinclair returned about 10 minutes later with a cushion and a fleece. He then sat Mr Merritt in a urinal before taking him to the bar, where his ankles were taped together and his crotch and upper arms were strapped to the chair.

Mr Merritt said he heard Somarakis rummaging through some items on the bar and he was asked who the jeep outside the pub belonged to. He replied that he did not know and the men then left, taking the vehicle keys with them.

He managed to remove the tape from his eyes and tried to call 999 from the bar phone but the line was dead. He pressed the alarm button under the bar and a police officer came.

Mr Merritt was later taken to the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford.

Lesley Bates, prosecuting, said: “This was a horrific ordeal for Mr Merritt. The experience he must have had on that occasion we can but imagine.”

She called Sinclair a “coward” for refusing to give evidence.

The court heard that Pc Patrick Sims was on duty in Church Road, Benson, at around 3.40am when he saw the Suzuki Vitara travelling at about 80mph.

He followed the jeep as it joined the A4074 and planned to stop the driver after the Mongewell roundabout.

On the approach, Pc Sims said he saw the vehicle “twitch” to the left before going the wrong way round the roundabout. It then rolled down a bank and fell on its side.

He said that when he reached the car there was nobody there but he heard footsteps. Two laptops, a till and a sports bag belonging to Mr Merritt’s sister were in the car.

A police helicopter was called in and Somarakis and Sinclair were arrested walking along Wallingford Bridge. Neither man was wearing shoes and both appeared to be wet and out of breath.

Peter Du Feu, for Sinclair, told the jury that although his client was in the car when it crashed that did not necessarily mean that he was involved in the burglary.

The men will be sentenced later. Judge Bruce McIntyre said they should expect custodial sentences.

Published 17/12/12

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