Plymouth police probing botched armed robbery bid death
POLICE are this morning continuing to investigate how a botched bookies robbery left a Plymouth man dead.
As The Herald revealed on Saturday, the masked gunman has been named as city man Alan Levers.
The 50-year-old's family have been speaking about their loss, as shocked locals try to come to terms with the dramatic incident on their doorsteps.
It is understood Mr Levers died at the scene after attempting to rob the Crownhill Road branch of Ladbrokes on Friday with a fake pistol.
Police have since described four customers who tackled him as "very brave".
Levers was jailed for four years in 2010 for robbery with an imitation firearm at Costcutter in Mutley Plain.
He terrified a female shopworker into handing over £600 by pointing the weapon at her body and face - and was caught the next day.
Levers, who was from Honicknowle but whose address in 2010 was given as Seaview Avenue, Lipson, had convictions for burglary and assault going back to 1976, when he was 13.
He was jailed for 42 months in 2006 for burglary.
He was a recovering heroin user with a significant drink problem.
Nephew Peter Levers, 28, yesterday confirmed his uncle's death, describing the gunman as a "generous" man who had just been reunited with his family.
Mr Levers also said his uncle had been trying to move on from his criminal past after a spell in prison.
He said: "He was a generous guy who would give you his last 50p if he had it.
"He had recently been reunited with his family, he was back in touch with his kids, 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 the dad-of-three may have had a lung condition which restricted his breathing.
He said: "He has a shadow on his lung, he's been quite ill recently. They thought it might have been cancer. That could have affected his breathing.
"Right now we want answers. We need to know exactly what happened."
Local residents have spoken of their shock in the aftermath of the botched armed robbery bid.
The masked gunman died at the scene of the bungled bookies raid in West Park on Friday.
A major police investigation is continuing tonight after the dramatic incident, which saw customers tackle the robber and pin him to the ground.
Quick-thinking Ladbrokes customers jumped on Levers when he burst into the Crownhill Road betting shop at around 6.50pm on Friday.
Levers – wearing a gas mask to conceal his face – is believed to have been wielding a pistol-type weapon.
Detective Constable Paul Otter was one of the officers at the scene on Saturday.
He and colleagues have been speaking to Ladbrokes staff inside the building.
The betting shop is to remain closed until 11am this morning.
A post-mortem investigation into Lever's death took place on Saturday.
Four customers are thought to have been inside the bookmakers at the time of the incident.
They tackled the robber to the ground and disarmed him before alerting police.
Police swooped on the building, at the junction with Parade Road, and quickly cordoned off the area.
It is understood Levers was found not to be breathing 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.
Forensics experts wearing protective clothing have been working inside the building, which remained taped off into the early hours.
A HM Coroner van was seen leaving the scene shortly before 11pm.
Television crews were among those to rush to the busy junction during the evening as news of the incident spread to the national media.
Locals told The Herald of their shock at witnessing the drama on their doorsteps.
One nearby resident said: "It's usually a quiet place so it's surprising that this happened, but it's worrying there might be more robberies like this with the recession."
A lot of the local shops were shut at the time of the incident.
However, one local shopkeeper said: "I heard about this morning and have come in to see police around and everyone talking.
"It's sad but it could have been worse - especially because he had a gun."
Another local resident said the man had burst into the bookmaker's wielding what she described as a "firearm".
The woman – who asked to remain anonymous – said she had been told the man had died after bookies staff and punters restrained him.
"There were lots of police cars and ambulances," the lady said.
"They put police tape all around the railings – you couldn't get near the shop.
"We didn't know what was going on."
A nearby McColl's newsagents and the West Park Chippy, which is next door to the bookmaker, both remained open last night.
Police remain at the scene until Sunday, while the bookmakers was closed all weekend.
The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) has been informed of the incident. The IPCC investigates all incidents where a person dies in custody – or after having other contact with police – as a matter of course.
Chief Inspector Ian Drummond-Smith said: "This is a very serious incident.
"We cannot speculate on what has actually taken place here today.
"A full investigation has now begun and while the IPCC carry out their investigation it is not appropriate to comment further."
A police spokesman added on Friday night: "A man in Plymouth, believed to be in his 50s has collapsed and died while attempting to carry out an armed robbery.
"At around 6.50pm on Friday, January 25, police in Plymouth were called to an incident at the Ladbrokes betting shop on Crownhill Road, following a call from a member of the public.
"Full circumstances are not yet clear, but it is understood a man entered the betting shop sometime around 6.45pm wearing a gas mask and holding a pistol-type firearm.
"People in the shop immediately tackled the man and were able to restrain and disarm him.
"The man was held down, still wearing his gas mask, while police were called.
"On police arrival the man was arrested. "It quickly became clear the man was unresponsive and an ambulance was immediately requested by police who carried out CPR until they arrived.
"A few minutes later three paramedics arrived at the scene and continued to carry out further CPR.
"Around twenty minutes later the man was declared dead at the scene by the paramedics.
"This incident has been voluntarily referred to the Independent Police Complaints Commission.
"It is normal procedure to refer an incident to the IPCC after someone dies when there has been police contact.
"The man has been identified but next of kin have not yet been informed at this time."
Ladbrokes has said it is aware of the incident and is assisting police with their enquiries.
Investigators, who have not revealed whether action against a person or people is being considered over the man's death, are now appealing for witnesses.
If anyone has any information about this incident contact police on 101 quoting log number 630 of January 25.
Chief Superintendent Andy Bickley, Plymouth police commander, said on Saturday: "Last night's events resulted in the tragic death of a Plymouth man. His family are being supported by police and our thoughts and condolences are with his family at this sad and difficult time.
"Within ten minutes of receiving a report of an armed robbery my officers were on the scene. Throughout today we have been working hard to establish the facts of what actually occurred.
"The deceased is a 50 year old man from the Honicknowle area of the city. A forensic post mortem has been carried out today but formal identification has not yet been completed. Police though can confirm that this man is locally known as Alan Levers.
"As previously reported, the matter has been voluntarily referred to the IPCC, although at this time Devon and Cornwall Police have the lead for the investigation. This is routine practice for this type of enquiry.
"A detailed, locally-led investigation has begun with support from major crime team detectives. I can confirm that no one has been arrested in connection with this death nor has anyone been questioned under caution as a suspect at this time.
"I can also clarify that there were four people in the shop at the time of the incident and they have all supported our inquiries
"It is possible there were other people in the immediate area around the time of the incident or perhaps had just left the store a short time earlier. I would like to ask those people to contact us on 101or through Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555111 – they may have some information that can assist the police investigation.
"I can share with you that the firearm has been initially examined by a police firearms officer and it appears to be an imitation pistol, though this still needs to be verified. I would like to add however that there would have been no way of knowing this at the time of the incident. The actions taken by members of the public in the shop were brave and showed a disregard for their own safety.
"I would like to stress that armed robbery with a firearm in the city of Plymouth is extremely rare, with only one recorded gun-point robbery at a business premises in the last 12 months.
"The witnesses who were inside the store at the time of the incident are being offered full support from us as are my police officers who were also at the scene last night.
"We have had neighbourhood officers out on patrol today in the West Park and Honicknowle areas reassuring and listening to local residents to allay their concerns and fears.
"I know you understand and appreciate that this is an ongoing investigation, still in its early stages and I am not able to share any more detail at this time."
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