Family's apology as masked gunman dies in botched bookmakers raid in Plymouth
THE family of dead gunman Alan Levers have apologised for his terrifying and fatal botched raid of a city bookies.
Speaking exclusively to The Herald, the 50-year-old's loved-ones also described their devastation at his shock death.
Police were this morning continuing to investigate the dramatic armed robbery bid that left career criminal Levers dead.
The dad-of-four burst into a Ladbrokes betting shop in Crownhill Road at around 6.45pm on Friday, wearing a gas mask to conceal his face and wielding an imitation pistol.
Brave punters tackled him to the ground and disarmed him as police raced to the scene.
But Levers, still wearing his gas mask, was pronounced dead when paramedics arrived.
His family today told The Herald they were seeking answers over their loss – but apologised to anyone left traumatised by the robber's actions.
Nephew Stephen Levers, speaking on behalf of the family, said: "There is a lot of upset – what he did has upset people and we are sorry for that.
"Believe me, as a family we are truly sorry. But we also lost our uncle, which is tragic.
"For the last two years he really tried – and that's the shock of it, because he really did try.
"It wasn't supposed to be like this and we can't understand why because he's been doing so well."
Liverpool football club fan Alan was born and bred in Honicknowle and went to Honicknowle School. He was a steel fixer by trade but had problems with drugs and had served time in prison for similar crimes.
However, Stephen spoke about how his uncle had begun to turn his life around.
"He had done some bad things in his life," the 33-year-old said.
"It's hard because he's had his issues in life, you don't want to do what he's done. But I can't make him out to be a bad person because he wasn't. He moved to Yeovil and came back and he was clean.
"In the last two years he's changed – he's been brilliant.
"He's just been like normal, back to himself. Him and his partner Julie were getting on really well. They were settled and happy.
"Julie is absolutely devastated."
Peter Levers, another nephew of Alan, also spoke about his uncle getting his life back on track.
The 28-year-old said: "He had recently been reunited with his family, he was back in touch with his eldest child, he had a great missus.
"I can't understand why he would do this now when he had everything to live for."
Peter also revealed that Alan had health problems – which the family believe may have contributed towards his death.
"He had a shadow on his lung," Peter said. "He's been quite ill recently. They thought it might have been cancer."
Levers was later given the all-clear, but Peter added: "That could have affected his breathing. Right now we want answers. We need to know exactly what happened."
Stephen's mother Kim, Levers' sister, passed away two years ago.
Stephen spoke about how Julie was both Kim's best friend and Levers' partner.
"Julie was there for us so we're all close," he said. "When Alan came back from Yeovil to Plymouth, he made a go of it with Julie and with her young boy Mark, too. With them he was doing well.
"Regardless of what he's done and whether it was wrong or right, he's still been taken away from us.
"It's sad, it's tragic and he's going to be missed."
The family last night refuted local rumours that relatives of Levers were plotting "revenge" against those who apprehended him.
"We don't hold anybody responsible," Peter told the media.
He added that he had last seen Levers on Thursday evening, after his uncle had been out fishing.
"He came back with a big smile on his face," he added.
Formal identification was carried out yesterday afternoon and the man has today been formally named as Alan Levers, aged 50, from Honicknowle in Plymouth.
Police say their position has not changed with regard to the four witnesses who were inside the betting shop at the time of the incident. At this time, police are not anticipating taking any legal proceedings against them.
A police spokesman said: “These key witnesses acted bravely under difficult circumstances and showed a disregard for their safety.”
A forensic post mortem has now been carried out. Further tests though still have to be completed. Results of which will be for the coroner to release at a date in the future.
Three customers are thought to have been inside the bookmakers at the time of the incident. Two are believed to have tackled Levers to the ground, disarming him before alerting police.
David Walker, from West Park, said he walked into the betting shop just five minutes after the botched robbery took place.
The 55-year-old said: "I went in about 6.55pm, to put a bet on the football. When I went in there, they were scuffling on the floor, I just thought it was just a fight or something.
"There were the two men, customers I think, on top of him, and the bloke on the floor.
"There was a bloke behind the counter and an old guy with glasses standing around. The bloke behind the counter told me they weren't taking any bets and I had to leave.
"I didn't see their faces, as they were holding the guy down at the back of the shop. I couldn't see any mask and there wasn't any physical movement, they were just holding him."
Officers swooped on the building, at the junction with Parade Road, and quickly cordoned off the area. Levers is understood to have been found to be non-responsive as officers were in the process of arresting him.
They attempted CPR and an ambulance was called, but he was pronounced dead at the scene.
Scenes of Crime officers remained at the scene into the night as a full investigation into the incident was launched.
A HM Coroner van was seen leaving the scene shortly before 11pm. Forensics experts wearing protective clothing worked inside the building, which remained taped off into the early hours.
Police were back at the scene on Saturday, interviewing bookies staff as television crews gathered outside. The betting shop was due to re-open this morning and no arrests have been made in relation to Levers' death.
THE LIFE AND CRIMES OF ALAN LEVERS
THE masked gunman who lost his life inside a city bookmakers was no stranger to crime, writes Crime Reporter Carl Eve.
Cuttings taken from past editions of The Herald reveal Alan Levers had convictions going back to 1976 – when he was just 13.
A crown court report from February 2010 showed how Levers had committed a strikingly similar armed robbery at the Costcutters store on Mutley Plain in December the previous year.
The initial story, which made the front page on December 5, 2009, explained how two men, one wearing a scarf over his face and another with a hoodie entered the store. One man pulled out a pistol and levelled it at the female shop assistant’s face.
The court report named Levers as that man, revealing he had pointed it first at her body and then her face, ordering her to open the till.
Prosecutor Lee Brembridge told the court the woman was “terrified she would be killed”.
When a male supervisor came out of the office, he too had the gun pointed at his face by Levers.
Around £600 was snatched from the till before the robbers left, leaving the female shop assistance to break down into tears.
Levers was later identified in a line up and from the shop’s CCTV.
He had been arrested the following day as he left his home, carrying the clothes he’d worn for the robbery and the gun – later found to be an imitation firearm – dismantled and carried in a plastic bag.
Mr Brembridge said the assistant had no idea at the time that the gun was a fake.
He went on to note how Levers, who then lived in Lipson, had convictions for burglary and assault stretching back to 1976.
He had also been jailed for 42 months in 2006 for burglary.
His advocate told the court Levers had been released in November 2008 and was on a reducing methadone prescription.
However, he had by then replaced heroin with alcohol, and had a significant drink problem.
He noted how Levers – who initially denied he had been in the store, but had later pleaded guilty to robbery and possessing the imitation firearm – had been shocked at the impact of his actions and had written to the female shop worker.
His advocate said Levers was gaining an education in jail and was described as a thoroughly decent and helpful inmate.
However, Judge Francis Gilbert QC said the robbery was more serious because it had happened at night, at a small business, was planned and involved disguise and a weapon.
He said he had intended his victim to believe the gun was real to make her open the till, and she had been terrified. He then sentenced Levers to a total of four years and three months.
It is understood Levers had re-entered civilian life sometime last year.
He had recently signed up to Facebook and gathered friends and family around him.
In his latest posts, he proudly expressed his love for his partner Julie, calling her his “heart and soul and my soulmate”. Levers also spoke of his affection for his sister.
However, for reasons that may never be known, on Friday he made the fatal decision to re-enact the same crime he committed in late 2009 – despite the lengthy jail sentence he knew he would face if caught.
POLICE KEEP AN OPEN MIND OVER EVENTS INSIDE BOOKMAKERS
DETECTIVES were today continuing to investigate the circumstances surrounding the botched armed robbery bid that left a city man dead.
Investigators heading the inquiry told The Herald they were keeping an “open mind” about what took place inside the Ladbrokes targeted by masked robber Alan Levers.
Detective Chief Inspector Paul Bean, who is leading the police probe, revealed the staff and customers inside at the time were not being treated as “vigilantes” – and were not thought to have acted “improperly”.
However, detailed police interviews are now due to take place with all four eye-witnesses.
DCI Bean told The Herald: “We are not dealing with vigilantes. We are dealing with people who have reacted instinctively to circumstances they are faced with.”
He said a post-mortem on the body of Mr Levers had already been carried out by a Home Office pathologist.
Meanwhile, CCTV camera footage provided to investigators by the betting company had allowed police a clear understanding of what went on inside the premises on Friday evening.
“We are obviously duty bound to investigate the death,” DCI Bean added. “But there is no evidence to suggest that any body has acted improperly. However, an open mind-set must be maintained.”
The case is being investigated by city detectives with support from the Major Crime Investigation Team. Additional work was being carried out by Scene of Crime Officers, while members of the neighbourhood policing team have been carrying out reassurance patrols, including speaking with store staff and shoppers in the West Park area.
Investigators will now attempt to build up a clear picture of the circumstances leading up to the death of Levers.
In advance of an inquest being opened and adjourned early next week, the findings of the post-mortem examination have not yet been released.
Levers’ medical records are likely to be examined by officers in an attempt to determine whether he had any underlying conditions which could have played a part in his early death.
Investigators say they have viewed seemingly clear-cut CCTV footage from the store.
Over the next few days detailed statements will be taken from the one member of staff and three customers who were inside the Crownhill Road bookmakers at the time of the incident, along with any witness statements from people who were in the area at the time. It is also likely police will also carry out interviews with relatives of Levers in an attempt to determine his state of mind.
A case file of the circumstances surrounding Mr Levers death, with additional advice from the Crown Prosecution Service, will eventually be passed onto Plymouth coroner Ian Arrow.
An inquest is likely to take place later this year.
The Independent Police Complains Commission has also been informed about the incident.
Meanwhile, police have ruled out a link between Levers and an unsolved armed robbery in Devonport in October 2010. As reported in The Herald at the time, a man wearing a green gas mask and wielding a pistol held up Morice Town Stores and demanded cash from the till.
But Detective Inspector John Ardron, who led that investigation, said the cases were not being linked as Levers was behind bars, for the armed robbery of Mutley Plain’s Costcutter store, when the incident took place.
NEIGHBOURHOOD SHOCKED BY GUN DRAMA
PLYMOUTH’S top policeman has moved to reassure city people, as residents in West Park spoke of their shock at an armed robbery – and death – on their doorsteps.
Chief Superintendent Andy Bickley stood before local and national media on Saturday to emphasise the city’s safe record – and the “brave” actions of staff and customers of the bookmakers.
He spoke of the rarity of armed robberies in Plymouth, noting that over the past year only one other gunpoint robbery took place in a business premises.
Chief Supt Bickley praised the actions of the member of staff and three customers who were confronted by masked gunman Alan Levers.
He said: “The actions taken by members of the public in the shop were brave and showed a disregard for their own safety.
“No one is being treated as a suspect in this man’s death.
“No one has been arrested in connection with this death nor has anyone been questioned under caution as a suspect at this time.
“Fortunately Plymouth does not have a reputation as being a gun or firearm town. We do not have a significant number of incidents involving firearms in this city.”
He revealed the firearm had been initially examined and it appeared to be an imitation pistol.
However, he said the staff and customers would have had “no way of knowing this at the time”.
He confirmed police were currently working with a number of other agencies, including Ladbrokes, to offer support to the staff and customers.
Chief Supt Bickley said: “I think they are brave people who have been involved in a very traumatic incident.
“They weren’t expecting it and it is important that the effects of that experience are realised by all and that they are given the appropriate support.”
Investigators say they are keen to hear from anyone who may have been in the area of the Ladbrokes betting shop or West Park anytime leading up to the robbery.
Chief Supt Bickley said: “It is possible there were other people in the immediate area around that time or perhaps they had just left the store a short time earlier.”
Residents and workers in the local area told The Herald of their shock at the drama.
Speaking at the scene as the drama unfolded on Friday, a woman who lives nearby said rumours were already beginning to circulate.
“Apparently a man with a firearm went in and tried to rob the place but they stopped him,” she said.
“There were lots of police cars and ambulances, we didn’t know what was going on.”
Bryony-Blue Cole, who works at the Bargain Booze store opposite the bookies told The Herald: “A lot of people were coming in with different stories at first.
“Everyone’s been talking about it. It’s a tight knit community round here, we get regulars in all the time so people know each other.
“We were really busy on Saturday night, everyone was talking about who he was and there had been lots of TV crews and cameras here all day.
“You just don’t expect it here – it’s a little shop and a friendly area.”
Bryony-Blue added: “The atmosphere has changed.
“For us it was like, he could have done it to this shop. You just think, ‘it could have happened to us’.
“A lot of people knew the man who died because he was quite local.
“He must have come in here a couple of times. I’ve probably served him.”
Pensioner Ivor Green, who also lives nearby, said he was not surprised that punters had stepped in.
“They would do that in a shop like this,” the 67-year-old said.
“It is our betting shop. The staff become your friends.
“It’s a little family, and it’s no different to a member of your family being threatened.
“The guys in there would be protective of them.”
Police are asking that witnesses call them on 101 or call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555111 quoting police log number 630 of January 25.
HAVE-A-G0 HEROES UNLIKELY TO FACE CHARGES
A LEGAL expert has said the bookmaker’s customers were unlikely to face prosecution if they used “reasonable force” when faced with the West Park gunman, writes Crime Reporter Carl Eve
Nigel Lyons, a partner at Foot Anstey solicitors and a criminal law specialist, said police and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) would be examining a range of evidence before making any decision about prosecution.
The debate over reasonable force when a suspect enters a home intent on burglary was renewed in October last year at the Conservative party conference.
At the conference, Justice Secretary Chris Grayling said householders who reacted with force when confronted by burglars would get more legal protection.
While “grossly disproportionate” force would still be against the law, the bar would be higher than the current “proportionate” force test.
Mr Lyons said the question police and the CPS would ask in relation to the death of Levers was “did the customers use reasonable force in relation to the circumstances?”.
He said: “We assume these were ordinary members of the public going about their lawful duties.
“They are then faced with a man brandishing what they believe is a handgun – whether it turns out to be imitation or real is irrelevant.
“They would most likely fear for their safety.
“We understand one or more of them disarmed him and restrained him, then someone then calls police.
“Up until the point the gun is removed the force that a person may use may be regarded in other circumstances as quite extreme.”
However, Mr Lyons said once that threat had been removed, the level of force that could be regarded as acceptable in law is reduced.
He said: “The CPS will be looking at the findings of the police. The investigators will be speaking to all those present who were involved – those that were involved in disarming him, those involved in restraining him and those who just witnessed the incident.
“They will be asking what they subjectively felt. Did they fear for their personal safety? Did they feel that they had to act or face serious harm or death?
“Then the police will have to consider objectively whether that action was reasonable.”
Mr Lyons explained that if the threat had been negated by the gun being removed, then “citizens were entitled to detain, effectively making a citizens arrest”.
He said: “We don’t yet know whether the gas mask restricted his ability to breath, whether he was agitated and hyped up.
“His death may have been from natural causes, in that he may have had a stroke, a heart attack, an embolism, or an asthma attack.
“If his death was by asphyxiation, the focus would be was he held in a way which restricted his airways? Was that done during the attempt to remove the gun, or when he was being restrained?”
Mr Lyons also noted that if any kind of charge did follow, the CPS would have to consider whether a prosecution would be likely to succeed.
He asked: “What is the likelihood that a jury would want to convict a member of the public who tackled an armed robber?”
COUNSELLING FOR WORKER
THE sole bookies worker who was behind the counter during Friday’s bungled armed robbery attempt will receive counselling, Ladbrokes has confirmed.
The shop on Crownhill Road was due to reopen this morning.
It was surrounded by police tape on Friday evening as Scenes of Crime officers and forensics experts worked inside the building late into the night.
The West Park store remained closed over the weekend.
Employees displayed a sign saying it had been closed due to “unforeseen circumstances”, but would re-open at 11am today.
Employees were present on Saturday to help police with their investigations.
Two staff members accompanied police to the shop.
Ciaran O'Brien, director of public affairs at Ladbrokes said: “We do provide counselling and specialist support for staff and will be doing so on this instance.
“We are aware of the serious incident in Plymouth and we are providing the police with all possible assistance in their investigation and providing staff with support.
“It would not be appropriate to comment further at this stage.”
HOW THE HERALD KEPT THE COUNTRY UP TO DATE
THE Herald led the world in breaking news of the shocking robbery bid over the weekend.
We broke the news on our website, www.thisisplymouth.co.uk. Within minutes it had been picked up from our @heraldnewslive Twitter feed.
The Herald’s reporter Sian Davies and photographer Paul Slater were first on the scene.
It was nearly an hour before Devon and Cornwall Police were able to confirm details.
By then, Sky News, BBC and national news websites were beginning to cover the story.
Chief reporter Edd Moore was interviewed on BBC Radio 5 Live shortly after midnight. He also spoke on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Saturday morning. Saturday’s Herald front page was also held up to millions on BBC One’s Breakfast show.
The Herald’s website was the first to name Alan Levers as the dead gunman – and to publish his photograph.
Sian Davies, who broke the exclusive online, later gave her insights on BBC Radio 5 Live on Saturday evening.
THE HERALD SAYS: WHY NO-ONE SHOULD REVEL IN THE DEATH OF GUNMAN
IT IS an incident which is the talk of Plymouth and has grabbed national news headlines.
Gasmask-wearing gunman Alan Levers died after his attempt to rob a West Park bookies was thwarted by customers.
But no one should be revelling in the death of a man whose life was almost more tragic than his demise.
The 50-year-old father-of-four’s background was tarnished by crime from the age of just 13.
He had struggled with drugs and alcohol between stretches in prison and attempts to get his life back on track.
Levers had been jailed for burglary in 2006 and again in 2010 after he carried out another raid at a store on Mutley Plain.
A terrified female shop assistant feared for her life when he threatened her with an imitation weapon.
But when Levers left prison for the final time last year his family truly hoped he was finally going straight.
When something snapped and he returned to crime on Friday night, he paid the ultimate price – by losing his life.
Police have not yet revealed the exact cause of his demise, but senior investigators say the punters are not believed to have acted improperly.
They have been praised by the city’s police chief Andy Bickley for their brave and instinctive actions when faced with the terrifying situation of being held-up by an armed gunman.
And in the absence of any new evidence coming to light, they deserve nothing less than admiration for tackling a man who they believed was carrying a firearm and posed a threat to life.
This is an incident which will scar many lives.
For Alan Levers’ family there will be massive regret that his life ended in such a shocking way.
And those who were unwittingly drawn into his death will be asking how a normal Friday night came to such a terrible end.