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Home Detention For Young Bank Robber And Gambling Addict

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Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

Christchurch, Feb 5 NZPA - A bank robber escaped a jail sentence today after he said that a man had threatened to harm his family if he did not pay him $10,000.

Crown prosecutor Tim Mackenzie said Judge Raoul Neave should start by considering a five-year jail sentence for gambling addict George William Cowen, asking whether home detention would send the wrong message to other potential bank robbers.

But Judge Neave sentenced Cowen, 20, to 11 months' home detention and 250 hours of community work for robbing the St Martins Westpac Bank with an imitation pistol on October 8 last year.

"I am prepared to accept, perhaps a little generously, that there was such a threat made to you," he said. Christchurch District Court was told Cowen had stopped going to university because of the time spent at a casino.

He didn't tell his family, or police, when a man approached him outside the Christchurch Casino and threatened to harm his family if he didn't come up with $10,000 in three weeks.

Three weeks later he robbed the bank and escaped with about $4000, but was chased by members of the public and caught by police.

Cowen told the court how he had talked at the casino about some big wins he had had gambling online.

He had spoken of winning up to $25,000 but no longer had that money when the threat was made. "It was not going very well. I had zero at that point."

He told probation he had earlier won $48,000 over 10 days online, but had then lost it in a single day about six weeks before the robbery.

Cowen said he had seen the man who threatened him -- a tidily dressed, well built, Maori -- a couple of times at the casino and would recognise him again.

The court was told Cowen was a good student, from a supportive family background, with good references, who suddenly turned to crime.

Defence counsel Jonathan Eaton said there would be a 100 percent commitment by Cowen to addressing his issues and getting his mind healthy and back on track.

Cowen, who was described as an outstanding soccer player who had played for New Zealand as a schoolboy, had served four months in custody on remand since his arrest.

Cowen was ordered to serve the home detention at his parents' St Albans home, with an assessment for his problem gambling, working as directed, and abstaining from all gambling.

He will have to pay back $40 that went missing as he fled the robbery, along with the community work -- which can be converted to training.

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