Robber killed in bookie raid 'had fake gun'

Police inquiry launched into death of man in gas mask who died as customers thwarted raid

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The Independent Online

A masked gunman who collapsed and died after being disarmed and pinned down by customers in a betting shop, was last night named as 50-year-old Alan Levers.

Police have said the man was using what "appears to be an imitation pistol" when he walked into a branch of Ladbrokes in Plymouth, Devon, on Friday night wearing a gas mask.

Customers were said to have immediately disarmed and restrained Levers, who is said to be from the Honicknowle area of the city, as others raised the alarm.

Police arrested the apparently armed robber, who was already unconscious, upon arrival, but he was declared dead a short time later. The police watchdog, the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), has been asked to investigate the incident.

Devon and Cornwall Police said an initial investigation suggested the firearm was an imitation. "The firearm has been initially examined by a police firearms officer and it appears to be an imitation pistol, though this still needs to be verified. I would like to add, however, that there would have been no way of knowing this at the time of the incident. The actions taken by members of the public in the shop were brave and showed a disregard for their own safety," Chief Superintendent Andy Bickley said.

Police said an ambulance was called soon after police arrived. "It quickly became clear the man was unresponsive and an ambulance was immediately requested by police who carried out CPR until they arrived. A few minutes later three paramedics arrived at the scene and continued to carry out further CPR. Around 20 minutes later the man was declared dead at the scene by the paramedics. This incident has been voluntarily referred to the Independent Police Complaints Commission," a police spokesman said.

Eyewitness David Walker, 55, from West Park, Plymouth, described how he thought a fight had broken out in the shop. "When I went in there, they were scuffling on the floor, I just thought it was just a fight or something. There were the two men, customers I think, on top of him, and the bloke on the floor. I didn't see their faces, as they were holding the guy down at the back of the shop. I couldn't see any mask and there wasn't any physical movement, they were just holding him."

Ivor Green, 67, also from West Park, said he was not surprised that customers had tried to defend the staff: "The staff become your friends, it's a little family, and it's no different to a member of your family being threatened." He added: "He shouldn't have been doing that in the first place." The Ladbrokes branch remained closed yesterday with two uniformed police officers on duty outside.

Police said that armed robbery with a firearm in Plymouth is extremely rare, with only one recorded gun-point robbery at a business premises in the past 12 months.