Polite armed raider jailed for 14 years

A POLITE robber who raided three Suffolk building societies at gunpoint - apologising to staff before fleeing each incident - has been jailed for 14 years.

A POLITE robber who raided three Suffolk building societies at gunpoint - apologising to staff before fleeing each incident - has been jailed for 14 years.

Peter Zarre, 52, held up 11 building societies nationwide - including premises in Southwold, Aldeburgh and Woodbridge - and then spent much of his loot on £300-a-night prostitutes and luxury hotels, a judge heard yesterday .

Austrian-born Zarre carefully targeted small branches of building societies in English country towns and was always polite and apologetic to the terrified staff, Gloucester Crown Court heard.

Prosecutor Kim James said the raids started on August 18 last year at the Ipswich Building Society in Aldeburgh, during which Zarre wore a “floppy brimmed fisherman's hat”.

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He told the cashier: “I am really sorry. This is really silly but I need some money. Can you fill this bag.”

Mrs James said: “The gun was held in his hand and was then actually laid on the counter. It was not pointed directly at the witness. She said she felt quite scared. She was told by him to move to the other till in the premises and money was given to him from both.

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“He said to her before leaving 'I am really sorry'.”

Zarre, from Vienna, researched the details of the branches on the building society websites and would print out maps from the internet and spend days preparing each raid, said Mrs James.

His method was to drive to the chosen town in his old Ford Mondeo and park for the day in a pay and display car park.

From the car he would unload an old bicycle and then ride to the building society branch he had targeted, parking it outside ready for his getaway.

Wearing a variety of wigs, hats and cheap clothes from charity shops to disguise himself Zarre would then enter the branch, produce his large black imitation pistol and demand money.

After his robberies he would ride away on the bike to a nearby hiding place and lie low until police activity had died down and it was safe for him to return to his car and leave. Mrs James said the total Zarre stole in the 11 raids was £29,533.

“He said when arrested that he used the money to live and to help his family,” said Mrs James.

“He went on to explain that some of the money had been spent on female escorts - hundreds of pounds - and also on funding good hotels and travelling the country.”

Yesterday, Zarre admitted six robberies and six offences of having a fake firearm in his possession and asked for five more robberies and five similar firearm offences to be considered.

After being jailed for 14 years, he told Judge Martin Picton: “Thank you very much, Your Honour. Thank you very much for your leniency.”

Judge Picton had told Zarre his offences were aggravated by the fear he had caused to his victims, mainly women - and by the fact that he had carried out a similar campaign of robberies in the mid 1980s, for which he had served a 15-year sentence.

The defendant was sentenced to 12 years concurrently for each of the latest robberies and two years consecutively for the firearms offences - a total of 14 years.

His latest crime spree was finally ended in Wotton under Edge, Glos, on April 25 this year after he had robbed the local C&G branch of £1,200. He immediately confessed to all his previous robberies.

The six robbery charges he admitted started in Aldeburgh on August 18 last year when he held up Nicky Garnham in the Ipswich Building Society and got away with about £5,500.

He went on to target premises in Thornbury, South Gloucestershire, Pershore, Worcestershire, and Gloucester.

The five robbery offences Zarre asked the court to take into consideration including the raid at the Norwich and Peterborough Society in Southwold on February 17 this year, and the Ipswich Building Society in Woodbridge on March 14.

He was finally caught in Gloucestershire when a police dog handler became suspicious of him.

Giles Nelson, defending, said Zarre was born in Austria but came to Britain when he was 18 months old and was educated here. He qualified as an engineer.

He later went to Rhodesia and served in the army there but then found himself rootless and stateless. He became increasingly desperate for money because of his status and committed the 1980s robberies.

Having served his time he was deported to Austria but returned after a year before going to Bosnia, where he worked for more than two years as a relief aid driver. He then went to Zimbabwe before returning to the UK in 2003 and working as an artist.

It was when he was trying to sell his work in Aldeburgh that he got financially desperate again and committed the first robbery, said Mr Nelson.

“He is an intelligent, polite and courteous man who has never been able to realise anything like his potential in life,” the barrister added.

Zarre could face deportation after serving his sentence, and Judge Picton will decide on May 18 what recommendation to make.

Last night, John Whayman, chief executive of Ipswich Building Society, said: “I'm very pleased the court seems to have recognised that a crime of this nature does warrant a long prison sentence and I believe justice has been done.

“The two raids created no significant issues, although we carried out a further security review as a result, but it was obviously a very great concern to all of our staff and customers and we were very keen for police to apprehend the offender as soon as possible.”

Alison Rolls, head of communications at Norwich and Peterborough Building Society, said: “The punishment reflects how severely the courts deal with armed robbery and for the wellbeing of our customers and our staff we are delighted this offender has been brought to justice and properly dealt with.”

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