Dairy robber jailed for armed raids

Convicted armed robber Matthew Leith appears for sentence in the Dunedin District Court for three...
Convicted armed robber Matthew Leith appears for sentence in the Dunedin District Court for three strikes against the same local dairy. Photo by ODT.
A man who robbed the same Dunedin dairy three times may not have waved a knife at his victims, but the presence of the weapon undoubtedly ''inflicted terror'' on them, a judge said yesterday.

Matthew Leonard Leith (37), of Dunedin, robbed the Mornington Night'n Day Dairy last August, November and February while armed with a knife and in disguise.

Each time he ended up with ''not inconsiderable sums of money'' from the tills, Judge Michael Crosbie said. The three robberies netted a total of $2973 in cash and about $360 worth of cigarettes and tobacco.

In the Dunedin District Court yesterday, Leith was sentenced to seven years' jail (three concurrent terms), of which he must serve at least half before he can apply for parole. On his release, he is to pay reparation, as sought, and he has been given a warning under the ''three strikes'' legislation.

Since pleading guilty last month, Leith had met the store owner at a restorative justice conference. He had apologised to her and she had accepted his apology, although that acceptance was conditional on him not offending again, the judge said.

The woman had been keen to meet Leith and challenge his behaviour face to face, Judge Crosbie said. And there had been ''some forgiving graciousness'' on her part in that she wanted him to get the help he needed to turn his life around and make a new start.

She had encouraged him to find work and live differently.

She was obviously interested in meeting him, to find out what led him to rob her dairy three times. She thought he was on drugs but learned he had a good job at the time and did not want to lose it.

But he was struggling to pay a debt so looked around for a store to rob, then ''did what he did''. Leith had also offered apologies to the three staff he robbed. The dairy owner was concerned what he would have done if they had tried to call the police. And while he said he did not intend hurting anyone, he had acknowledged the staff would not have known that.

''What's positive is she got to meet you face to face and receive an apology from you, face to face,'' Judge Crosbie said.

He said Leith appeared to have engaged in the restorative justice process not because he had to but because he was genuine.

Crown counsel Richard Smith and defence counsel John Westgate agreed any minimum non-parole period should be 50% of the end sentence, given Leith's guilty plea and his participation in restorative justice. Mr Westgate described the defendant as having some insight and concern for his victims.

The important thing was for him to stop returning to the cycle of reoffending once he was released.

Judge Crosbie said the four victim impact reports were ''all consistent'' and told Leith there was no doubt he had ''inflicted some terror on these people''.

''What you did, Mr Leith, was extreme. That's why it carries a maximum sentence of 14 years' imprisonment,'' the judge said.

The penalty imposed had to be severe to deter and denounce violent behaviour by a person armed with a weapon against people in a vulnerable situation.

But, in the particular circumstances, a term of seven years' jail was appropriate, as was a minimum non-parole term of 50% of the sentence.

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