County Durham man claimed to carry out immigration check on overseas student

A MAN who attacked a foreign student on the pretext of doing an immigration check, was only stopped in his tracks when two other undergraduate students came to the woman’s aid.

Warren Pearce approached the student as she walked from her South Road college in Durham city center while listening to a device through headphones, at 10.20am on November 20 last year.

Durham Crown Court heard Pearce posed as some form of immigration officer and asked her for her papers to check if she had the right to stay in the UK.

Nigel Soppitt, prosecuting, said the confronted student offered her passport and UK residence permit, and Pearce responded, saying they should move to a quieter location to carry out checks.

He walked a short distance, then gestured to make a phone call, supposedly to check the validity of his documents.

Mr Soppitt said that after the fake call was over, Pearce threatened to have her locked up, telling her the passport was fake.

She protested that she could prove it was genuine if they returned to her university, but Pearce became restless and nervous, which Mr Soppitt said was probably due to the amount of drugs he had taken .

He angrily made further threats to have her locked up, and the woman became increasingly anxious, contemplating running away.

Mr Soppitt told the court that Pearce seemed to sense it and grabbed her by the neck, putting his hand over her mouth.

The victim dropped his phone and lost his glasses, as Pearce told him to shut up and said he should take him somewhere quiet.

He demanded money and dragged her to some bushes, as she begged him not to hurt her.

Two other local students, who realized she was being dragged into some bushes, challenged Pearce.

He ran towards one, but did not intimidate the students, who gave chase, despite Pearce’s aggressive shouting, and filmed him as he ran away.

Following the incident, the shocked student was taken back to her college and, although the accused fled, he was arrested approximately 90 minutes later.

Pearce, who was found in possession of cannabis, apologized and admitted trying to rob the student.

It emerged he had been released after being questioned about further matters at Durham City Police Station earlier in the morning.

Mr Soppitt said Pearce claimed that upon leaving the police station he had smoked so much cannabis that his evil alter ego, ‘Geoff’, emerged and he simply ‘passed out’.

During an interview, he denied that the photos of him leaking were him.

The 30-year-old defendant, from Ashton Street, Easington Colliery, initially denied any attempted robbery, but weeks before his trial changed his guilty plea.

Mr Soppitt told the court that Pearce had 23 convictions for 43 offenses and had already served a three-year sentence for kidnapping.

Read more: Durham man charged with robbery at city currency exchange shop

Chris Baker, in mitigation, said the use of force was “limited”, as Pearce placed an arm around the victim’s neck.

Mr Baker said that since his incarceration, the defendant had accepted help for mental health issues and drug and alcohol abuse.

“It shows he is taking action to deal with what has been a pernicious cycle of breaches that goes back a considerable period of time.”

Recorder Tom Moran said it must have been an “absolutely terrifying” ordeal for the victim, and had it not been for the intervention of the two “brave” students, it could have turned out to be much more serious.

Finding that Pearce posed a “significant” risk of serious harm to the public, he imposed an extended fixed-term sentence of 56 months, of which the defendant must serve two-thirds before being eligible for parole.

Upon release, it will be subject to an extended license term of three years.

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