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Shop worker 'locked in vault' during £15k cigarette heist, court told

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The accused was denied bail (stock photo)

The accused was denied bail (stock photo)

The accused was denied bail (stock photo)

A female shop assistant was locked in a vault during a £15,000 cigarette heist in east Belfast, the High Court has been told.

Prosecutors claimed the woman was forced into the storage room after raiders ransacked the newsagents.

Details emerged 46-year-old John Little was refused bail over his alleged role in the raid on June 3 last year.

Little, of Parker Street in the city, faces charges of robbery and false imprisonment.

The court was told a man entered the shop on Kings Square and ordered a lone member of staff to empty drawers full of cigarettes into bin bags.

The robber took her to a vault at the rear of the store, grabbing her by the collar when she tripped and fell, according to the prosecution.

She was then instructed to continue filling bags with more tobacco.

A Crown lawyer submitted: "The male confirmed with her that she had no mobile phone before telling her that he was locking her in the vault.

"He closed the door and left the keys outside with her trapped inside."

The woman's shouts for help were heard by a witness who also saw a man escaping into a BMW car outside, it was claimed.

Later the same day a co-accused was arrested at another corner shop in the city where the cigarettes were brought to.

Little was allegedly located hiding in the toilets of that store.

Mr Justice O'Hara was told an estimated £15,000 worth of cigarettes were stolen from the Kings Square newsagents.

Defence barrister Richard McConkey challenged the strength of any forensic link to Little.

He also argued that his client could be facing a year in custody before the case reaches trial.

Denying bail, however, the judge said: "He's found hiding in the toilets in a shop where the stolen cigarettes are delivered to, soon after the robbery.

"He's got a lot of explaining to do, to talk his way out of this one, forensics or no forensics."

Belfast Telegraph