THIS "persistent" teenage thief was yesterday locked up for the protection of the public following his third armed robbery in two years.

Cardiff Crown Court heard how Connor Harte went to Lifestyle Stores in Underwood on July 5 last year, armed with an imitation firearm. Store owner Christy D'Silva, was closing around 9pm when Harte, carrying a black draw string bag, asked him if he sold Coca-Cola.

He said yes and the pair went inside before Harte, 19, took out what he believed was a real hand gun, pointed it at the shopkeeper and demanded: "Open the till, put the money in the bag or I'll shoot you."

A defiant Mr D'Silva told him: "Go on then, shoot me," repeating himself three times before stepping forward into an aisle. Harte opened the weapon's safety catch, but realising the shop owner wouldn't back down, fled telling him: "Don't call the police."

The teenager, of Morden Road, Newport, got into a Vauxhall Astra where his friends Scott Stephens and Daniel Saunders were waiting, and Stephens drove them to Saunders' home in Malcolm Sargent Close, Ringland.

Saunders agreed to get rid of the gun and hid it near the former Hartridge High School before later retrieving it and throwing it into the River Usk.

Prosecutor Huw Evans, told how Saunders' dad Phillip Saunders, 54, helped his son evade police for a weekend, giving him cash and a new mobile phone. Harte was arrested on July 6 after police identified him on the shop's CCTV footage.

Daniel Saunders, 19, and Stephens, 25, of Tennyson Road, handed themselves into police on July 9, initially claming they knew nothing of Harte's plans for the robbery.

Harte pleaded guilty to conspiracy to rob and possession of an imitation firearm with intent to rob at an earlier hearing. Phillip and Daniel Saunders admitted a charge of assisting an offender, while Stephens was found guilty of conspiracy to rob after a trial. No further action was taken against Ben Evans, 21, of Malcolm Sargent Close, Newport, who travelled with the others to the robbery in Stephens' car.

James Tucker defending Harte said the "immature" teenager was no "hardened or cynical criminal" and said while he took the weapon to the store it was not used with force or to cause injury.

Robert Duvall, defending Stephens, said there was no way to know whether Stephens knew a gun would be used, but accepted he knew a threat or force would be used.

James Evans, for Daniel Saunders, said his client was of previous clean character and these events would have a detrimental effect on his life going forward. Stephen Jeary, defending Phillip Saunders said he pleaded guilty at the first opportunity.

Recorder Tom Crowther said the robbery was no spontaneous or foolish incident, but was instead a "planned scheme". He praised Mr D'Silva's "astonishing" bravery and said the level of his fear should not be underestimated.

He described Harte as a "persistent" offender whose crimes were escalating and said he was imposing an extended sentence because he presented a serious risk of harm to the public and in particular to convenience storeowners.

Harte was given a six-year custodial sentence in a young offender's institution and will spend four years on licence upon release.

Stephens was locked up for four years, Daniel Saunders got 16 months, whilst his dad got 13 months.

Speaking after the hearing, detective inspector Alun Davies said: "This was a particularly distressing incident for the victim who was terrified when faced with the offender making demands. "Harte is a threat to the community and has shown the capability to commit crimes without regard for the victims involved. I am pleased that officers located and arrested him quickly, and those who aided him in committing his crime, and the investigation has resulted in appropriate custodial sentences today"

Teen had used a knife and chemical in robberies

The court heard Harte has two previous convictions for similar offences including a knifepoint robbery at Lifestyle Stores in Alexandra Road, Pill, in December 16, 2010, when he made off with £1,500 and cigarettes.

Four days later he robbed Ali's Convenience Store on the same road and threw ammonia into the face of shopkeeper Abdullah Ali. He also stabbed him in the leg with a screwdriver as he tried to fight back, before making off with £300.

Harte was given an 18-month detention and training order for the offences and was still on licence when he committed his latest crime. He was also subject to a suspended sentence order for harassment from May 2012, and should have had an electronic tag fitted two days before this latest incident becaue of further offences, but it was never fitted.