Bungling carjackers thwarted by Scottish war hero, jailed

A CARJACKER who picked the wrong victim when he tried - with a friend - to steal an Iraqi war hero's car has been jailed for six years.

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James Smith, 26 and Gary Pacitti, 25, were convicted of conspiring to steal cars by robbery at Straiton retail park, Midlothian on February 19.

Yesterday at the High Court in Glasgow Pacitti was not in the dock. He is in hospital with a suspected kidney infection and is expected to be sentenced later this month.

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The court heard that Smith was out on licence at the time of the attempted carjacking of Lance Corporal Austin Miller’s car and was ordered to serve the remaining 337 days of his previous sentence for assault to severe injury before he starts his new sentence.

Iraq War Veteran, Austin Smith. Picture: Vic RodrickIraq War Veteran, Austin Smith. Picture: Vic Rodrick
Iraq War Veteran, Austin Smith. Picture: Vic Rodrick

Sentencing him judge Lady Stacey said: “I have to take a very serious view of a charge of conspiracy to steal cars by robbery. You and your co-accused acted together and then attacked Mr Miller and tried to steal his car.

“You have a shocking record. You have several convictions for assault and robbery and you were out on licence at the time.”

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The court heard that Smith and Pacitti, who were both masked , bungled the robbery and fled empty handed, after trying to surprise Mr Miller, a former soldier who served in Iraq and Afghanistan with 3 Rifles.

The robbery took place at Straiton retail park in Midlothian. Picture: TSPLThe robbery took place at Straiton retail park in Midlothian. Picture: TSPL
The robbery took place at Straiton retail park in Midlothian. Picture: TSPL

They ran ran towards the former soldier’s car as he prepared to eat a McDonald’s meal in a car park.

Pacitti wrenched open the door and repeatedly punched the infantryman on the head before dragging him unconscious from his Volkswagen Golf.

Lance Cpl Miller, 24, came round moments later to see Pacitti in the driver’s seat trying to steal his car.

He told a jury: “I punched him and soon after I hit him he called for his friend to ‘Get the shooter’ – get a gun.

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“The other person, who had a black scarf over his face, came round the back of the car acting as if he was trying to get something out of the waistband of his trackie bottoms, like a weapon.

“I said to him: ‘Get the shooter? I’m not leaving the car!’

“Once he realised I was going to stand up for myself he stopped pretending to get something from his waistband and I hit him as well, in the face with my fist. He stumbled back.”

Bungling Pacitti was unable to drive off – as he couldn’t work the car’s handbrake system.

Lance Cpl Miller, who fought in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with 3 Rifles before leaving the regiment a few weeks ago, took the keys out of the ignition, retrieved his phone and dialled 999.

The culprits then took off with his wallet, were chased by the war veteran and dropped their loot on the ground before fleeing the scene.

Lance Cpl Miller said he felt wetness on his face and realised he was bleeding from an injury above his left eye.

Pacitti and Smith were snared after DNA was found in the car and the pair were caught on CCTV.

Solicitor Advocate Ewen Roy, representing Smith, said: “His recollections of that day are hazy due to substance abuse. He says he bitterly regrets going to the locus with his co-accused that day.”

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