A County Court Judge has lauded the bravery of three Ballarat punters who went to the aid of a TAB employee being held at knifepoint earlier this year.
Judge Richard Maidment defended the actions of the men, who physically restrained the armed bandit until police arrived, saying “you cannot blame them for doing what they did.”
“If somebody has a knife ... you can’t be criticised for going over the top,” he said.
Judge Maidment’s comments were made during the case of John James Cricelli, 42, who pleaded guilty to one charge of armed robbery yesterday.
The court heard that the men were patrons of the TAB outlet in Bakery Hill on June 12, when Cricelli entered the building disguised by a high-visibility hooded jumper and sunglasses – aimed at hiding his identity from witnesses and security cameras.
He was jailed yesterday for three years and six months, with a non-parole period of two years.
Crown prosecutor Pat Bourke said TAB agent Michelle McCann entered a staff-only office area, and was followed by Cricelli who entered before the door could close behind her.
Mr Bourke said Cricelli produced a large silver knife and held it in front of Mrs McCann in a threatening manner.
The court heard Mrs McCann grabbed the knife and attempted to pry it away from Cricelli, who engaged in a struggle with the woman. During the struggle, Cricelli managed to grab $500 cash, before Mrs McCann’s husband David arrived and attempted to restrain the man.
The court heard three TAB patrons heard Mrs McCann’s screams and rushed over to help stop Cricelli – who was still holding the knife – leaving the building.
During the struggle, one of the men struck Cricelli over the head with a rubbish bin before police arrived.
Defence barrister Paul Stefanovic said his client never intended to hurt anybody and was sincerely remorseful for his actions. He said Cricelli had been diagnosed as a pathological gambler and was undergoing a Gambler’s Help course in prison since being arrested.
“This was extremely out of character,” he said.
“He has had a gambling problem for 25 years.”