Armed robber Geoffrey Urwin has been jailed for terrorising a heavily pregnant bookies worker and her colleague - despite a glowing reference from a former Sunderland captain.

Urwin went into a branch of Coral hoping to snatch thousands of pounds of takings from the safe but ended up fleeing with cash from the till after being bravely tackled by a customer.

The tall raider, armed with a hammer in a sock, left the sock at the scene as he fled. When police found DNA on it, he tried to pin the blame on his brother but was snared by expert evidence which showed the sock had been worn by a man much taller than his sibling.

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As Urwin was jailed at Newcastle Crown Court, it was revealed that recently released for Sunderland captain Max Power had written a reference for him to hand in to the court while others also testified to the other side of the serial robber's character.

Urwin, 37,who already had 13 convictions for robbery on his record, went to Coral, on Old Durham Road, in Low Fell, Gateshead, around 6.30pm on August 3 2018.

Two female members of staff - one of them eight months pregnant - were on duty and there were customers in the shop at the time.

Wearing a balaclava and carrying the weapon, he walked to the counter and demanded they give him all the money while appearing "calm but threatening".

The Coral bookmakers robbed by Urwin
The Coral bookmakers robbed by Urwin

He knew the safe was under the counter and demanded they open it, knowing it was likely to contain lots of cash at that time.

However the member of staff was so terrified she was unable to enter the code properly.

A brave customer intervened and tried to force Urwin over the counter, prompting him to take several hundreds of pounds from the safe and go.

Sentencing him to five years and three months, Judge Robert Adams said: "What you didn't expect was one of the two men present decided to have a go.

"As you leaned over the counter you were rather startled because he tried to hoist you over the counter."

The judge added: "Obviously the two women present were terrified of what happened, certainly very scared.

"One of them was particularly vulnerable, she being eight months pregnant."

It was as he fled that he dropped the sock, leaving crucial evidence.

Urwin's sock proved to be a crucial piece of evidence
Urwin's sock proved to be a crucial piece of evidence

Faced with compelling DNA evidence, he tried to blame his brother but tests showed the sock had been worn by someone between 6ft 4in and 6ft 7in. Urwin is 6ft 6in while is brother is shorter.

Urwin, of Balmlaw, Gateshead, denied robbery but was found guilty by a jury and has now been jailed for five years and three months.

The court heard he has 80 previous convictions, including the 13 robberies, violence and conspiracy to supply heroin, although he had been out of trouble since 2009.

Judge Adams said the other robberies showed a propensity to attack female victims and on one occasion a child was present.

Urwin had been working as a plasterer at the time and the court heard it wasn't clear why he had reverted back to his bad old ways.

Judge Adams said he had seen a reference from Max Power, saying: "He has a high regard for you helping your son and others who are members of the football club".

The chairman of a football club in Gateshead also provided a reference, saying he had been helping with maintenance work.

Lewis Kerr, defending, said: "There are references which reflect how he can behave."

The court heard he also has post traumatic stress disorder after he was slashed in prison previously.