A man grabbed a Durham University student by the throat and dragged her into some bushes in a terrifying robbery attempt.
Warren Pearce had been taking Valium and drinking alcohol when he arrested the student from Aisan on November 20 last year and demanded to see her papers to see if she had the right to stay in the UK United. The helpful student even offered her passport and license shortly before Pearce turned violent and dragged her into the nearby bushes.
Fortunately, the attempted robbery was thwarted by two other passing students who heard the woman’s cries for help and bravely chased Pearce away. During his arrest, the 30-year-old claimed that he had smoked so much cannabis that his “perverse side”, which he named “Geoff”, had invaded his body and that he had few memories of it.
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Pearce, of Ashton Street, Peterlee, appeared at Durham Crown Court on Thursday to be convicted of attempted theft and possession of cannabis. He had pleaded guilty to the charges at a previous hearing.
Nigel Soppitt, prosecuting, said the victim, an Asian Durham University student, was walking from Trevelyan College in Durham city center at around 10.30am. “She was listening to her device through headphones and the defendant approached her and said something to her,” he said.
“She couldn’t hear him, so she took off her headphones. The defendant asked her for her papers to show that she had the right to stay in the UK. She offered the defendant her passport and her British residence permit. The defendant said they should go to a quiet place and they walked a short distance where the defendant examined the documents.”
Pearce then pretended to make a phone call while checking the documents before “threatening to lock him up”, claiming his passport was fake. The puzzled victim even offered to take him to his college reception where it could be checked. But Pearce, who seemed “agitated and anxious”, then made further threats to lock her up.
Mr Soppitt, said the victim was becoming “increasingly anxious” and was considering running away when Pearce “grabbed her by the neck and put his hand around her mouth”. He said: “The accused told him to be quiet or he would take him to a place where no one would hear him. He then demanded money while dragging him further and further into a area of bushes. He wrapped her in his arms and pulled her from behind, the victim screamed for help and said ‘please don’t hurt me'”.
The court heard that two passing students heard the victim’s cries for help and saw her being dragged away. The two male students then “charged” at Pearce, who let the woman go and ran towards them in an unsuccessful attempt to “intimidate them”. Realizing that the students were not afraid of him, Pearce fled as the woman was escorted back to her university and the police were called. Pearce was arrested about an hour and a half later.
Upon his arrest, Pearce apologized and admitted to attempting to rob the student. The court heard that shortly before the offense he had been released from Durham Police Station that morning and was being investigated for another matter. Mr Soppitt said Pearce also told police he had ‘smoked so much cannabis that his evil side, Geoff, took over and his body passed out’.
Pearce had 23 previous convictions for 43 offenses, including kidnapping, assault and fighting, the court heard.
Chris Baker, defending, said Pearce’s main mitigation was his guilty plea. “He understands that, given the evidence presented in court, there is a strong likelihood that your honor will consider him a dangerous offender. It is clear that he has mental health issues and is a vulnerable man. He has a long history of significant self injuries and determined suicide attempts while in custody.At this time he is seeking help for his issues.
Convicting Pearce, recorder Thomas Moran, said the attempted robbery “could and could have gone further had it not been for the two brave students who got involved”. He said Pearce “selected” the woman as the victim and must have been “very convincing” when asking for her papers.
Pearce was imprisoned, with the Recorder sentencing him to an extended prison term of seven years and eight months.