A FORMER Thai boxing champion who started to self-mediate with crack cocaine after an injury is behind bars.
Steven Long is starting a three-year prison sentence for robbing a grocery shop in his home town of Billingham,near Stockton, last month.
The 31-year-old demanded money and cigarettes from the woman worker and pulled a claw hammer from a carrier bag before smashing a till screen.
It was said that he got angry when a bank card he tried to use was refused, and he had not gone to the Brooks store on Kenilworth Road to rob it.
His barrister, Stephen Constantine, said: “That is perhaps the best explanation that can be given. He lost his temper with the situation, took it out on the screen, and things went way out of control.”
In a statement read to Teesside Crown Court, the lone assistant said she was shocked and upset, and felt that Long wanted to hurt her.
She told how she did not want to return to work, has been affected emotionally and financially, and struggled to sleep after the ordeal.
Long took up Muay Thai to lose weight after suffering a series of ankle injuries playing football, and trained at Team Hanuman in Darlington.
In his sporting younger years, he played football for Billingham Synthonia Juniors and Hartlepool St Francis.
Mr Constantine told Judge Peter Armstrong: “Your Honour is dealing with an individual who has behaved completely out of character.
“You have read a very detailed letter from the defendant in which he explains how he came to be in the situation which ultimately resulted in his appearance before the court.
“There are references which show a completely different person who achieved standards in Thai boxing others could only dream of.
“There was an injury and he sought to self-mediate, and for some inexplicable reason became hooked on cocaine, particularly crack cocaine.
“Your Honour sees how he met his current partner who has provided a huge degree of assistance to him, but regrettably has been unable to help him rid himself of his use of drugs.
“When he was arrested, he could not quite believe what he was being accused of, and that he is capable of such behaviour. There is some evidence of remorse and contrition.”
The court heard how Long – who fled with cigarettes – was identified by the shop assistant, and also by a police officer who watched CCTV footage from the store, and his fingerprints were left in the smashed till, and a packet of biscuits.
Judge Armstrong told him: “The robbery was of relatively small returns of cigarettes or cash, but it’s not the property that is the subject of the robbery that is important – it’s the violence threatened or used.
“All this has had a significant effect on your victim. She was clearly badly shaken up and contemplated not returning to work, but happily she has been able to.
“At one stage, you were at the very top of your sport. You suffered an injury and there was a sort of downward spiral. You turned to cocaine, crack cocaine, and that really has been the curse which has led to your appearance for this serious offence.”
Long, of Hylton Road, Billingham, admitted robbery.