A WILLITON man has avoided being jailed after carrying out an armed robbery at a Spar he had already been banned from for shoplifting.

Christopher Singleton, 24, of St Peter's Close, was sentenced at Taunton Crown Court on Friday (August 3) after committing the robbery at 6pm on December 31, 2017.

The court heard both Singleton and his girlfriend had previously been banned from the Spar in Williton for shoplifting.

Rachel Drake, speaking for the prosecution, said: "Mr Singleton approached a member of staff with a small knife in his hand, told him to 'hand over all of the money' and put it in a plastic bag.

"The shop assistant recognised Mr Singleton and asked him; 'Are you sure you want to do this?'"

The shop assistant put £130 from the till into the bag and Singleton made off with the money.

Ms Drake continued: "It is an unusual crime in that there was a lack of aggression, as can be seen in the CCTV footage.

"The defendant has a small blade, which he keeps by his side and stands the customer side of the counter.

"The entire robbery amounts to less than a minute. He is even thought to have said 'thank you' before leaving."

Singleton only attempt at disguising himself was to have his hood up, the court heard, and police were able to pick him up within half an hour at his home in St Peter's Close.

Having answered 'no comment' to all the questions in his initial interview, he later phoned the police to confess, explaining that he was struggling with debt.

Defending, Emma Martin said Singleton comes across 'younger than his 24 years' and explained that he was someone who had a disruptive childhood in terms of his care, was bullied at school and left with no qualifications.

Mrs Martin said: "I do agree that this is an unusual case and does not fall neatly within the sentencing guidelines."

"He is actually supported today by a neighbour and a member of the Salvation Army who have been helping him and his girlfriend.

"This robbery was carried out in a moment of sheer desperation - he had a debt of £800 and he felt he had to get the money."

Mrs Martin said Singleton had spent a month in custody at Exeter Prison where he was 'a fish out of water'.

"He has seen someone slashed with a makeshift blade made using a toothbrush at close proximity," Mrs Martin said.

"He - bizarrely - describes himself as a pacifist, is sorry for what he has done and does not want to go back to prison."

Judge Paul Cook sentenced Singleton to two years in prison, suspended for two years, 130 hours of unpaid work, to take part in a Thinking Skills programme and undertake 20 days of rehabilitative activity requirement.