A MAN who allegedly used a “large kitchen knife” to rob cash from a shop in the Ballykeel area of Ballymena on Saturday night was being hunted by police, a court heard on Monday morning.
The details regarding the unnamed knifeman emerged at Ballymena Magistrates Court during a bail hearing for another man accused of involvement in the same alleged incident.
Keith Balmer (27), with an address listed as Staffa Drive in Ballymena, is in custody charged with robbery of cash of £218 and theft of Pringles worth £2.50 in connection with an incident at a Mace store at Knockeen shopping centre on the Crebilly Road at Ballykeel Two.
The case went ahead in Balmer’s absence after the court heard the video link from the custody suite at Antrim Police Station was being used for another court hearing.
A police officer said he believed he could connect Balmer to the charges.
The officer objected to Balmer being released on bail on the grounds that the defendant has previous convictions for “similar offences” and he believed he could commit further offences and fail to abide by any court order.
The incident at the shop happened on the eve of the funeral of 12-year-old house fire victim Brooke Reid’s funeral at Ballykeel.
The police officer said: “We believe that due to the outrage in the community it would be unsafe for the defendant to return to his home address”.
The officer said a group of men had “shouted abuse” at Balmer when he was being arrested on Sunday morning and reference had been made about not being back in Ballykeel.
Objecting to bail, the detective constable said that on Saturday October 3, Balmer and another male entered the Mace shop.
He said the other male was armed with a knife – a “large kitchen type knife” – and the males robbed the store of cash and the defendant, Balmer, stole a “tube of Pringles” before they left together.
The officer said Balmer was identified by CCTV and during the arrest at his home address police seized what they suspect to be Class A drugs.
When interviewed, the officer said Balmer accepted it was him on CCTV and that he had seen his co-accused with the knife.
After the incident, police recovered the clothing – a green coat and yellow marigold gloves – of the co-accused, at Balmer’s address, the court was told.
The officer told the Monday morning court that at that stage police were still looking for the co-accused.
A defence barrister said his understanding of the interview with Balmer was that the alleged co-accused “who would be known to the police and the court,” entered the shop; had gone to the till and took “over £100”.
The lawyer said his understanding was that the CCTV showed Balmer “not at the till but stealing a packet of Pringles and then leaving”.
The defence barrister said that by going by the CCTV there was “no suggestion” that Balmer was involved in a “joint enterprise” with the co-accused.
The lawyer said it looked as if Balmer, having been in the company of the other individual, had gone into the shop and stole some Pringles and made his way out.
The suggestion he was aware of a knife “appears to be after the event,” the lawyer said.
The barrister said Balmer accepts he is on the CCTV “but he is now really being tarred with the same brush in respect of a robbery charge as opposed to a simple theft – shoplifting”.
The lawyer said Balmer has struggled with alcohol, has a record and is due up in court for sentencing in a couple of weeks time for an unrelated matter.
The barrister said Balmer has an appointment with the Community Addictions Team.
The lawyer said his instructing solicitor told him the “prime mover” in the matter was armed with a knife and had gone to the counter and obtained some money under threat.
He said Balmer “was nowhere near that” and didn’t take any active role in that.
The lawyer added: “He is seen as the ‘patsy’, in effect, stealing a packet of Pringles and making his way out”.
The barrister said he didn’t know if Balmer was under the influence of alcohol or otherwise whilst in the shop.
The police officer said the two men attended the shop together and Balmer stopped at the counter while the other suspect was holding the knife out and said Balmer admitted he saw him with the knife.
The officer said Balmer then walked over a short distance and lifted the Pringles; had not gone into the shop to buy anything else, and had walked out with the other suspect.
The policeman said there was CCTV of Balmer and the suspect being in the shop earlier that day when Balmer did not have his head covered but when he was in during the robbery he had his hood “tied right up round his face”.
The officer said he believed Balmer was attempting to hide his identity when he entered the shop at the time of the robbery and saw what the other suspect was doing and left with him and took clothes back to his house.
The officer said a hat pulled down over the other suspect’s face during the robbery was found on a grass area and there was “other evidence” to suggest that the man was staying with Balmer at an address.
The officer said they were trying their best to capture the other suspect “but he is quite elusive”.
The detective told the court that in 2012 Balmer was found guilty of a robbery of a KFC worker who was picking up litter in a car park at 6am and three people took his litter-picker off him when he refused to give them cigarettes and attacked him and stole his wallet.
District Judge Peter King noted police had made reference to their perhaps being “community tensions should Mr Balmer return to his local area”.
He said there was clearly a risk of re-offending and he had huge concerns about admitting the defendant to bail whilst the other suspect “remains at large” and there was also a risk of interference with the investigation.
Balmer was remanded in custody and the case was adjourned to October 15.
The judge said he would like to think that by that stage the other suspect would have been captured.
Ahead of the court appearance a police spokesperson had said they were investigating a robbery at a shop on Crebilly Road at approximately 9:45pm on Saturday when “cash was taken during the incident, during which no injuries were reported.”