Pair jailed over threat to strangle cabbie for cash

TWO men have been jailed after threatening to strangle a taxi driver in his car so they could steal £85.

Damon Kelly and George Boni were caught when Kelly accidentally re-dialled the private hire driver's controller from his mobile phone after the attack. The controller heard the pair laughing about what they'd done and mentioning their location, so he called the police.

Kelly, 22 and Boni, 25, were part of a gang of four who threatened to strangle Sean Stirton if he didn't hand over his takings.

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The other two members of the gang were not caught, Livingston Sheriff Court was told. Kelly, of Blackburn, West Lothian, was jailed for 28 months and Boni, of Longridge, West Lothian, for two years. Both admitted a long list of previous convictions. They earlier pleaded guilty on indictment to attempting to strangle Mr Stirton in Livingston on September 18 and robbing him of 85, a USB stick, FM transmitter and two cigarettes.

Kelly also admitted stealing a set of car keys and a 57,000 Jaguar car from a house in Blackburn two days before the robbery, and committing a breach of the peace by brandishing a hammer and possessing an offensive weapon.

Jane Hilditch, prosecuting, said the 22-year-old taxi driver had answered a call to pick up a fare in Bathgate.

Four men got into the car, including Boni, who sat directly behind the driver, and Kelly, who sat in the nearside rear passenger seat.

When they arrived in Livingston, Ms Hilditch said the driver heard one of the group say: "Where's your money?".

She told the court: "The complainer then felt a wire around his neck. He grabbed it with both hands.

"At that time the males were shouting, 'Where's the money?' The driver said that he'd get it if they took the wire from around his neck.

"The male holding the wire said 'no'. However, he was persuaded to release it by a male in the front seat. The wire was still around the complainer's neck but it had been released."

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Mr Stirton took 60 from his pocket and handed it to the robbers, saying that was all the money he had. When Kelly got out of the car, he opened the driver's door and took more cash from the door pocket.

Ms Hilditch said that when the mobile phone call was made to the taxi number later, the controller heard one of the accused boasting that he'd "got a taxi at Bathgate and bumped the driver for 70".

Gerry Whitten, Kelly's lawyer, said the wire referred to by the prosecution was in fact a piece of washing line. "Mr Kelly wasn't personally involved in any violence," he claimed.

Solicitor advocate Ian Bryce, defending Boni, said his client knew that the robbery was going to happen and took part.

He said: "My client tenders his remorse and deeply regrets playing any part in it."

Passing sentence, Sheriff Douglas Kinloch told them: "You subjected this taxi driver to what must have been a frightening ordeal. The fact that a rope of some sort was put round his neck makes this exceptionally serious.

"Taxi drivers plying their trade at night are vulnerable and it's appropriate that the court should protect them. In this case, that means that a prison sentence must be imposed."