Cheltenham man caused terrror in town centre pharmacy while demanding drugs
By Court reporter | 12th February 2020
A desperate Cheltenham man caused terror in a town centre pharmacy when he produced a knife and assaulted one of the staff while demanding the drug Diazepam, a court heard.
John Baker also slashed at his wrist and held the knife to his own throat, threatening to cut himself if he was not given the drug immediately, Gloucester crown court was told.
He took three packets of diazepam from a shelf in the dispensary and then left the store apologising for what he had done and saying he realised he would be going to prison for it, said prosecutor Janine Wood.
However, Baker, who admitted burglary, possessing a knife, and common assault, was wrong in his prediction - he walked free from court with a suspended sentence and a package of rehabilitation orders.
The court was told that Kevin Gilbert, the manager of the pharmacy, was in a back office when Baker doors came through the swing doors and started creating a commotion.
"Mr Gilbert went to investigate and saw John Baker holding a kitchen knife held to his own throat," said Mrs Wood. "Baker was demanding diazepam and said to the manager, 'If you don't give it to me I will cut myself.' He added that he needed it 'right now'.
"Mr Gilbert's initial thought that Baker was collecting it for somebody else and he instructed a partner to get a prescription ready. Baker shouted out that it was for him and not anybody else and assaulted Mr Gilbert.
"At this point Mr Gilbert was becoming fearful for his own and the pharmacy staff safety. Baker demanded to know where the diazepam was located in the store at the same time he started slashing his own wrist.
"Baker then took three packets of diazepam from the shelf and put the knife back onto his throat. He said to another member of the staff 'I know I am going to prison for this, but I need it right now, and I am sorry if I have upset anyone,' at which point he left the premises."
The court was told that Natalie French, a member of the pharmacy team, called the police while Mr Gilbert locked the front doors to the shop.
The police arrived and began a search of the area. They found Baker a short while later in Byron Road having already taken some of the diazepam. When officers spoke to him he produced a knife from his back pocket.
The court was told that when Baker was interviewed by police he admitted that he had taken the knife from his mother's cutlery drawer. He said he had no intentions of hurting anyone.
Baker (pictured right), of Monkscroft, Cheltenhanm, pleaded guilty to the non-dwelling burglary of a chemist on November 12, 2019, possessing a knife in Tennyson Road and a common assault on Mr Gilbert on the same date.
Judge Michael Cullum observed: "This is not a typical non-dwelling burglary. However Baker purposely targeted the pharmacy."
Charlotte Surley, defending, said that Baker was suffering from a 'number of significant difficulties' at the time of his offending.
"He had been discharged from hospital earlier that day after trying to commit suicide. But he was released without being offered any additional help from mental health services and he was told to contact the Crisis team," she said.
"I would suggest that he wanted to be caught. It was poorly planned and he was surprised that the staff knew his name. He thought to himself, 'what have I done?' and 'why am I doing this?' and was the reason why he apologised to them as he left.
"He has since been working with Change, Grow, Live in Gloucestershire over the past few months."
Judge Michael Cullum said to Baker: "I fully accept that the circumstances of November 12 were determined by your poor mental health, but it's clear that you also lost the ability to consider other people.
"What you presented must have been a frightening scenario to people working in a vulnerable business, a pharmacy, when you brandished a knife.
"This is an unusual set of circumstances. There was a bladed article. It is clear that there was a risk of causing serious public disorder, even though you used it on yourself, it would have given rise to that general fear."
The judge sentenced Baker to ten months in prison, suspended for 12 months. In addition Baker will be subject to 20 rehabilitation activity requirement days, a six month alcohol treatment programme and a 30 day programme requirement along with a monthly judicial review.
The judge also ordered forfeiture and destruction of the knife.
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