Mazahir Abbas Sheikh of Lochend Gardens, Edinburgh, had denied conspiring with 33-year-old Kerr Somerville to commit the theft at the Craigentinny Avenue branch of RBS on October 13, 2014; stealing £7829; and failing to identify Somerville, but identifying other men at the identity parade as resembling the robber.
However, at Edinburgh Sheriff Court today on the fourth day of the trial, after three days of evidence, Sheikh changed his plea to guilty.
Somerville, who had only two previous convictions for road traffic offences, pled guilty in August last year to stealing the money, while acting with another man, and was sentenced to ten months in prison. (Reporting on his case and Sheikh’s trial was banned until the end of the latter’s trial.)
Giving evidence at Sheikh’s trial, Somerville said Sheikh approached him in the summer before the raid. “I was asked if I would take part in getting the money. I was actually pretty shocked when it was put to me. I was in need of money at the time. I didn’t think that in this day and age you could walk into a bank and walk out with the money”.
Somerville said he was told to come to the counter where Sheikh was serving and the money would be put under the shutter and no attention would be paid to him. He was also told not to come in on certain days because there were people working there who would recognise him.
On the day of the robbery, Somerville said he wore dark suit trousers, a body warmer, a baseball cap and a hood. He said he received a text to come in “after the next customer”. “I could see Maz through the window and he signalled to me and I went in. I just handed Maz the note and that was it. He gave me the money”. Asked what the note said, he replied: “Don’t say a word. Give me the money or I am going to shoot”. Somerville said he had written the note so that Sheikh could show it to “his bosses”. He added that he was not armed.
Sheikh, he said, asked a colleague to “hand me the bundle of fifties” and began giving him piles of money in a bag. The bag turned out to be a “dye bag” which banks use if a robbery takes place and which explodes when it passes an electronic signal at the front door. Somerville said he had put the bag in his under garments and was covered in red dye when it burst. He told the court that Sheikh “walked away with £1500” of the bank’s money.
Defence solicitor, Victoria Good, asked him why he had robbed the bank. “Because it sounded so easy “ he said. “The opportunity was there and I took it”. He denied threatening Sheikh or his family.
The manager of the branch at the time of the robbery, Gary Hunter, said he was alerted to what was happening when Sheikh asked him to “hand me the bundle of fifties”. This, he said, was an old security code to signal that a robbery was taking place and he pressed the “panic button”.
The jury heard of a large number of mobile phone calls, some voice and some text, between Somerville and Sheikh before and after the robbery.
Sheikh said the large number of calls was because he owed Somerville £40 for a Blackberry and Somerville was wanting £50. “He asked for it back, but I couldn’t because I had sold it on”. Sheikh said Somerville came to his home on the morning of the robbery and told him about getting money from the bank. “He said his position was very bad. He owed a lot of money to a lot of people. He said I had to do it or there would be consequences. I was scared for my life and my wife and children. I was confused and scared. He was so confident. That’s why I did not say anything to anyone”.
Sheikh said he followed the bank procedure in a robbery by asking for the bundle of fifties and using the dye bag. He knew the manager would press the alarm and was giving the money as slowly as possible. As for putting the money into the dye bag, he said: “I wanted it to get destroyed. I didn’t want him to get away with that”.
As for Somerville being armed, Sheikh said: “I am sure I saw a silver barrel pointing at me. I don’t know if it was real or not, but he had a gun”. He also said he had been warned that if he identified Somerville at the ID parade there would be “consequences”. He denied getting any money from Somerville.
Fiscal Depute, Anthony Steele, asked him why he had not told the police about the threats to himself and his family. “I was too scared for my life, my wife and my kids” he said. “I did not lie to the police. I withheld information to the police”.
Sheriff Alistair Noble deferred sentence on Sheikh until next month for reports. His bail was continued.