‘GIVE ‘em a nice, real warm welcome to Weston.’
It sounds like an innocuous comment, but detectives investigating a terrifying armed robbery at the Abermain Bowling Club allege it’s an indication that the thieves had found a second target.
Two men, armed with a sledge hammer and a firearm, smashed their way into the Goulburn Street club about 10.25pm on June 19 and confronted a female staff member as she was preparing to close up for the night.
The pair are alleged to have forced her to the ground, tied her arms and legs with gaffer tape and ransacked the tills.
They are then accused of untying the staff member, taking her to an ATM machine to empty the cash boxes and then forcing her to open 19 poker machines, which the offenders emptied into bags. In total, they stole nearly $16,000.
The staff member was then tied to a table leg and the pair fled to a Nissan Pulsar, which was later found burnt out.
Detectives allege the two men are Joel Brendon Shoesmith, 35, of Cessnock, and Brent William Henderson, 33, of Weston.
Mr Shoesmith and Mr Henderson deny any involvement in the armed robbery and have been committed to face a trial in Newcastle District Court.
A woman, Paris Colette Labry, 30, of Pelaw Main, has been charged with concealing the armed robbery from police and conspiracy to commit an armed robbery at The Criterion Hotel at Weston. She appeared in Newcastle Local Court on Wednesday where she was committed to face a trial in Newcastle District Court.
It was during covert telephone recordings of Mr Henderson’s phone that police allege they uncovered a plot to hold-up The Criterion Hotel, according to police facts.
The hotel changed hands in July, 2017, and once it re-opened Ms Labry was employed as a barmaid.
During a conversation with Ms Labry about her new job, Mr Henderson is alleged to have said: “We've found our next target then anyways”.
In another conversation with another man Mr Henderson is alleged to have said: “I was talking to Paris the other day. That will work out sweet. “Give them a nice, real warm welcome to Weston.”
Police allege Mr Henderson and Ms Labry discussed the best day to commit the robbery, the amount of money kept on the premises, the best ways to enter and exit the hotel, the layout of the hotel, the alarm system and CCTV cameras and the hotel’s policy in dealing with armed robberies.
At one point, on August 3, police say they were so sure an armed robbery was imminent that they provided a tactical response, following the pair and monitoring their movements.
But no armed robbery was committed.