Posted by News Express | 20 July 2016 | 2,633 times
A former England footballer who turned to armed robbery after racking up gambling debts from a habit he picked up in the top flight has been jailed for 15 years.
Nathan Ashton, 29, who played Premiership football on the wing for Fulham before moving to Crystal Palace and Charlton targeted betting shops across London and the South East.
Along with former Scottish Premier League player Ohmar Pike, the pair netted nearly £15,000 from eight raids.
In one raid, a cashier “fell to his knees and had a panic attack and begged for his life”, a court heard.
A robber then put a gun to the back of his head and said: “I’m going to blow your head off, if you don’t open the safe”.
Ashton, who made 20 appearances for England teams from under-16 to under-19 level, developed a gambling habit as a footballer.
But, following a rape allegation – for which he was later acquitted – he “lost his livelihood”, and his debts spiralled out of control, apparently reaching £100,000 last August.
He started robbing betting shops after a friend suggested it was an easy way to raise cash, Kingston Crown Court heard.
Ashton carried out two robberies alone in February last year, and carried out eight raids with former Gretna FC player Pike, 27, between May and October 2015.
Father-of-two Pike, who played for the Scottish club for 18 months before they went into administration in 2008, became involved after he fell into debt.
Roughly £14,500 in cash was stolen from Paddy Power, William Hill and Coral betting shops during the spree.
The pair, wearing scarves and hoods, targeted the bookies just after they opened in the morning or before closing time when they knew cash would be available, it was said.
Branches targeted included the Kings Road in Chelsea, Woking, Putney, Isleworth, Hammersmith, Acton, Watford and High Wycombe.
Ashton, who admitted his role in the raids, was jailed for 15 years and Pike, found guilty by a jury last week, was jailed for 11 years.
Judge Susan Tapping said: “These robberies were carefully planned and developed a pattern to them.
“You must have travelled extensively to identify your targets.”
She told Ashton: “You were armed with a weapon, usually in a plastic bag or wrapped in plastic. You carried what two witnesses described as a black handgun.
“It may well have been an imitation, but it looked realistic so was very frightening.”
Judge Tapping told Pike: “I have considered your family circumstances. You also had a promising life until last year, and the disintegration of it is very sad, particularly for your children.
“But perhaps you should have thought of them first and not just now.”
Both Ashton and Pike made no reaction as the sentences were passed, while their family members wept in the public gallery.
At the time, Ashton was carrying out a three-month suspended sentence, after pleading guilty to stalking his ex-girlfriend, during which there was a suggestion he was “in debt to the tune of about £100,000,” prosecutor Sam Brown said.
Mr Brown told the court: “Nathan Ashton had an enduring friendship with Ohmar Pike, which, for reasons only known to themselves, evolved into a successful criminal partnership.
“The offenders exploited a vulnerability – namely, robberies took place when cashiers were susceptible to attack.”
They picked random locations to “disrupt” police efforts to identity the “pattern of offending”, he added.
In mitigation Michelle Clarke, defending Ashton, said: “Mr Ashton was a very talented young footballer.
“Unfortunately, whilst he was playing football, he got into gambling. He obviously had money.
“He could cope with the gambling whilst he was still earning. But sadly, when he was 22, he was accused of rape, and it took seven or eight months for the matter to come to trial.
“He was on bail, and he was on tag, and that meant that no football team would take him with that hanging over him.
“He had the trial, and he was found not guilty. But he then found himself, in effect, having lost his livelihood.
“Part of the stress of the trial and all the concurrent circumstances meant that what has already been a problem, when he was earning, became a huge problem.
“He was trying to maintain a lifestyle that he plainly could not sustain.”
Miss Clarke added: “And it is perhaps the ultimate irony that a man whose major problems were by gambling sees the solution in taking from places that were part of the problem.”
Before his arrest, Ashton was the assistant manager of a local team, she told the court.
Miss Clarke said: “That game was still really his first love.
“He is very ashamed of what he fell to, given the incredible promise he had as a youngster and the career he hoped he was going to have in the game itself.”
Roderick Jones, defending Pike, said: “He had a spell in the Scottish Premier League with one of the less fashionable sides. He was also paid a decent wage for a young man.”
But after the club went into administration, “he soon realised that the world of professional football was not going to provide the riches and satisfaction he hoped for” he added.
Pike qualified as a satellite engineer, but was made redundant in February last year, and fell into debt.
Pike, of High Wycombe, Bucks, was found guilty of one count of conspiracy to rob last week, but cleared of one count of conspiracy to possess a firearm or imitation firearm.
Ashton, of Reading, pleaded guilty to three counts of robbery, two counts of possession of an imitation firearm, one count of conspiracy to rob and one count of conspiracy to possess a firearm or imitation firearm.
No plea was entered for a further six counts – four counts of robbery, one of dangerous driving and one of possessing a firearm – which will lie on file.
Tex courtesy of The Sun of London. Photo shows disgraced former Prem Star Nathan Ashton.
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