Crook with 'Oliver Twist' upbringing jailed

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The Independent Online

A modern-day "Oliver Twist", who began a life of crime crawling through cat flaps to burgle houses at the age of eight, was jailed for seven years today for a string of terrifying robberies against wealthy women.

During one of them Tommy Puhlhoffer grabbed a young mother wheeling her five-month-old son in a pram and ripped off her rings.

Another victim he attacked as she climbed out of her Ferrari, had her engagement ring torn off so violently her finger snapped.

He also threatened two other women with a claw hammer.

London's Southwark Crown Court heard the hold-ups were committed while on bail for two cash heists, when he was the getaway driver.

One of them netted £50,000 from a security van, the other £2,500.

During a high-speed police chase after the second, "very dangerous" accomplice Nicholas Bidar - currently serving a minimum of 17 years - twice fired at pursuing officers.

Puhlhoffer then rammed a second patrol car as the stolen vehicle he was driving was forced to a halt.

The 21-year-old, of Harrow Road, North Kensington, west London, pleaded guilty to five counts of robbery and one of aggravated vehicle taking.

In the dock with him was Thomas Knapper, 22, from Maid Vale, west London, who pleaded guilty to one count of handling a stolen car used in an attack on one of the women. He was jailed for a 27 months and three weeks.

Sentencing, Judge Christopher Hardy told Puhlhoffer the offences he had admitted represented a "shocking series of violent crimes".

But while he had a "very bad and very lengthy record of previous convictions" none had involved violence.

However, having "thought long and hard" about the appropriate sentence he had decided against jailing him indefinitely.

He said Puhlhoffer, as getaway driver during the two cash heists, "played an essential part".

But his involvement in robbing the women was more serious.

"All have been seriously affected by what happened to them because of this. All of them have said that hitherto they have been perfectly happy to walk about the streets of London, but now they have been seriously affected and they no longer have that peace of mind when out in public.

"That is a shocking indictment of your behaviour."

As Puhlhoffer was led from the dock he punched the air in obvious relief and screamed "Yahoo, yahoo."

His mother, who told him "Love you son", also laughed as she left.

Turning to Knapper, the judge told him the handling he had admitted was committed just days after he was given a 39-week sentence suspended for two years for aggravated vehicle taking.

"I am invoking that sentence in full. It will run consecutively to the 18 months I am imposing for your latest offence."

Brian O'Neill, prosecuting, said the first robbery occurred on December 5 last year.

"Jonathan Traille was delivering and collecting cash when he was physically attacked by two men, including being stabbed in the back by one of them."

Fortunately, he was not seriously injured.

"The men made off with some £50,000 to a waiting getaway vehicle of which Puhlhoffer was the driver."

Less than two weeks later he struck again.

This time Michael Goane was attacked, again by two men, as he delivered cash. Some £2,500 was stolen.

"Once again Mr Puhlhoffer was the getaway driver," said counsel.

He told the court that later that day the defendant was spotted in the stolen car used in the hold-up.

"During a high-speed pursuit by a marked police car... Mr Bidar, a rear seat passenger, pointed a converted pistol at two police officers and fired two shots.

"In an attempt to escape Puhlhoffer rammed another police car which was blocking his route."

The officer driving was not seriously injured.

The barrister said the robber managed to escape and flee to Ireland where he was later arrested.

"But having been granted bail he embarked on a further spree of offending."

Mr O'Neill said his first victim was Kathryn Goldberg on May 12 this year in Notting Hill, west London.

"She was pushing a pram containing her five-month-old son when she was robbed by three men. Of the men squirted her with a red liquid and threatened her saying 'Give me everything or you are going to get hurt, your baby is going to get hurt'."

Several rings she was wearing were then stolen.

Three days later Puhlhoffer and his accomplices targeted a second lone woman.

"Adina Kohn had just arrived outside her home in Hampstead around noon and was getting out of her Ferrari when she was robbed by two or three men.

"During the course of the robbery she suffered a number of injuries including a broken left ring finger,

"It is accepted by Mr Puhlhoffer that he was the man who physically removed Ms Kohn's jewellery and broke her finger in the process," said counsel.

The barrister told the court the robbers then made their escape in a stolen car.

Eleven days later Puhlhoffer and one of his partners-in-crime held up two more women - Rachel Murphy and Claire Bryrom - as they walked through West Hampstead.

"One of them, Puhlhoffer, made threats to hit the women with a claw hammer he was carrying."

Pleading for leniency James Scobie, defending, said Puhlhoffer had had an "Oliver Twist" upbringing.

"If you look at his previous convictions they are chilling for one reason and one reason only.

"I had to check if it was possible for someone to get a crown court sentence of 18 months aged 12, but that it what he got.

"He never stood a chance. There was a mention of Oliver Twist in the pre-sentence report and you can see precisely why that maybe somewhat apposite.

"He was in a secure unit at aged nine. There is a reference to him being pushed through cat flaps and small windows at a young age. His first actual offence though was at the age of eight," he added.