AN ARMED robber who terrified female staff as he carried out attacks on a Newport Spar shop and a casino within three days has been given a life sentence today.

Jay Hamilton-Smith, formerly of Abergavenny, who was said to be in a desperate quest for cash to buy drugs, will have to wait four and a half years before he can apply to the parole board for release.

He hung his head in the dock at Worcester Crown Court as Recorder Adrian Redgrave QC insisted that the victim impact statements of the women, detailing their terror, were read to the court.

Jay Hamilton-Smith, aged 38, who lived on Llwynu Lane , Abergavenny, pleaded guillty to robbing Sharon Szekley at the Spar shop in Clytha Park Road in Newport, on May 3.

He also admitted the attempting to rob Anna Evans at Cashino, a casino in Hereford, on May 6. He handed himself into police a short time later.

Prosecutor Amrisha Parathalingham said Hamilton-Smith armed himself with a claw hammer and threatened the staff at the Spar shop to open the till. When they refused, he prised open two tills with the hammer.

He was caught on the shop's CCTV and his picture on the South Wales Argus website under the headline "Hammer-wielding robber." He was recognised by a policeman who had been dealing with him for previous offences.

Hamilton-Smith took the train to Hereford and called during the evening of May 6 at the casino, which was staffed by three women.

He had armed himself with a piece of wood he found in an underpass and threatened staff in a bid to make them open the safe. The manager raised her arm and was struck as the intruder brought down his weapon.

Fortunately she was not hurt. Since the incident her firm have taken on a guard to give more security.

Hamilton-Smith made off but was arrested without a struggle near the Orchard House, Barton Road, Hereford, a short time later.

The Recorder said he agreed with the probation assessment that Hamilton-Smith presented a high risk of harm to the public. His 33 previous convictions included numerous robberies, one in 2005 which resulted in an eight-year prison sentence.

Abigail Nixon, for Hamilton-Smith, said the only real mitigation was that he had given himself up to police and made immediate confessions of guilt.

He had got out of control because of his need for drugs. It was admitted that he had an appalling record but he was full of remorse after hearing his victims' account of their terror.

But Recorder Redgrave doubted his remorse was sincere, terrifying staff with weapons. "What right do you have to inflict such terror on them for you to get £200 to spend on drugs?" he said.

He was convinced that Hamilton-Smith was a danger to the public with the risk of causing harm by the commission of serious offences. His detection would have been inevitable with the fingerprints he had left behind and his identification on TV.

A life sentence must be imposed for the protection of the public, said the Recorder. Individual sentences would have totalled nine years so it would be four-and-half years before he could seek release.

‘I’ll shoot a customer’ threat at bank

IN 2010, we reported that Hamilton-Smith threatened to shoot a customer in a bank if the cashier didn't hand over cash - and was jailed for 15 months yesterday.

The robbery took place just two months after he was released from prison, six years into his eight-year sentence for another robbery.

Four years ago, Newport Crown Court heard Hamilton-Smith had been jailed for eight years in March 2005 for a £4,000 robbery in Abergavenny the previous October when a knife and crowbar were used.

Judge Eleri Rees gave him credit for confessing and noted the lack of a weapon despite his threat..

She said: "It does seem you find it difficult to cope with reality on life outside - when you are released again, there are stark decisions for you to make."

Hamilton-Smith walked into Barclays Bank in Gwent Square, Cwmbran, on October 12 2010 and handed a note to a cashier which read: “I have a gun, put all notes in bag or I will shoot one of your customers.”

The worker, who told police she felt “numb” put £1,000 into a bag given to her by Hamilton-Smith because she feared for people in the bank, including a pregnant co-worker.

Using CCTV from the bank, police tracked down Hamilton-Smith and he was arrested in Weston Super Mare three days later.

He told police he was depressed and he said he had a gun because he thought officers would shoot him. He did not have a weapon.

After the robbery, he caught a taxi to Cardiff then took a train to Weston Super Mare where he spent the money on drugs and slot machines.