A heroic shopkeeper who bravely fought off a hammer-wielding attacker today criticised the “soft” sentence handed down by a judge.
Brave Sraj Alosh acted as a human shield to protect a colleague from Steven Steele, before grappling on the floor to wrest the claw hammer from the assailant’s grip.
Mr Alosh was hit with the hammer in the elbow, back and neck during the attack by Steele, who had entered the Coliseum convenience store and off-licence, sporting a balaclava and holding the hammer above his head.
Steele, 31, was jailed for two years by Judge Stuart Baker at Preston Crown Court, after pleading guilty to assault occasioning actual bodily harm and having an offensive weapon. But 49-year-old Mr Alosh, who is originally from Israel, believes the sentence should have been longer.
He said: “We are in Britain, the law is very soft.
“Someone could have got killed that day. The punishment people get for the crime they do is not fair, but this is the law. What can you do?”
His colleague Jeffrey Chapman, 65, believes he would have been killed had Mr Alosh not acted. He said: “If he’d have lunged at me with it I would have died.
“I rushed behind Mr Alosh and this guy came and hit him twice. He rushed at him and disarmed him on the floor.
“I was well shaken up because I’ve been working here 25 years and it’s never happened before. It was a big hammer and it would have gone right through my skull.”
Praising Mr Alosh, he added: “He was brilliant because (Steele) could have done anything. The way Mr Alosh fought him off was instinct.”
The court heard the defendant, who had 44 previous convictions, had taken a mixture of alcohol, prescribed medication and illegal drugs before the attack, which happened at the shop on the corner of Lytham Road and Tyldesley Road, South Shore, on January 2.
Mr Alosh, who has run the shop for around nine years, arrived at 6.30pm.
David Clarke, prosecuting at Preston Crown Court, said the defendant had been into the shop twice earlier that day.
Upon arriving a third time Mr Clarke said: “He struck down with the hammer on to Mr Alosh’s right elbow, taking a layer of skin off in the process. Mr Alosh grabbed him and pushed him out of the counter area. The defendant struck him again, to the back, and they ended up wrestling on the floor. He managed to get the hammer away from the defendant.”
Steele, who ran off to the rear of a Promenade hotel, had left a bottle of methadone with his name on it, on the front step of the off licence.
He claimed to police there had been some earlier hostility with Mr Alosh, with the two of them physically coming together just the day before. He told officers “I was gunning for him”.
The defendant had drunk six cans of lager, a small bottle of Buckfast and had taken cannabis and prescribed medication as well. He spoke of having “walloped” the shopkeeper whom he called names and alleged had been “sliming on my missus”.
Paul Robinson, defending, said his client had taken a cocktail of drunk and both legal and illegal drugs at the time. He had a distorted perception about what may have or may not have occurred between the man and his girlfriend.
Along with feelings of paranoia, this had led to the “sorry saga” where Steele went to attack the man. It is a blessing the injuries were not worse”, he told the court. “He appears in the dock with his arm in a sling, having suffered a very severely damaged hand in a road traffic accident injury.
“He has been on remand since early January. While in prison he has been hit with a table leg, stabbed and slashed across the face”.
Judge Baker told Steele, as he passed sentence: “Fortunately for the shopkeeper and very fortunately for you, the injuries were not as bad as they might have been. It is not surprising that since the attack he has been anxious and worried about being in the shop on his own.
“Small shopkeepers are entitled to expect they will not be made the subject of violent attacks by people who enter their shops and at a time of day when it seems it wasn’t heavily used by others”.
Describing his actions that day, Mr Alosh told the Gazette: “It was scary and horrible but you don’t think. You’re protecting yourself and an old man. If he’d have hit him in the head he’d have killed him. This happened very quickly, the best defence is attack.”
John Hannett, Usdaw general secretary, said: “We will continue to campaign for a change in the law that will encourage more prosecutions and send a clear message to the public that assaulting a worker in the course of their duties is totally unacceptable.”