Detective Sergeant Eric Sword, who led the investigation, said: "This was an incredibly violent and unprovoked attack on a hard-working father-of-two - the level of violence was completely disproportionate to what the suspect sought to achieve which was robbing the shop.
Login Register. ES Money. The Escapist. The Reveller. ES Best. ES Mag. Follow us:. Password Please enter a valid password. Submit Submit. By Evening Standard Reporter. Iacovou was pronounced dead by paramedics at From branch to branch, rumours of a murder spread.
Staff at a William Hill in Glasgow heard that an employee had been stabbed. At a Coral in Hemel Hempstead it was said that someone had been shot. Robbery gone wrong? Was he single-manning? This was one of their great fears.
In the Facebook group, a discussion about possible strike action led nowhere. A hopeless, gravedigger humour set in instead. I was told by well-placed sources that this rumour was accurate. The operator also saw the cleaning materials that Iacovou had put out on his service area. It was assumed that Aarij was a cleaner who must have pressed the panic button by mistake. In Cheam, Anita Iacovou heard nothing all morning. At 2pm, police visited her at the flat.
Anita was asked to step in to her bedroom to speak with a policewoman. The two children were at home. Anita called them into the room to tell them what had happened. There is not a lot more she can recall of the afternoon. She knows she turned to the two Ladbrokes representatives, in the family living room, and asked: why was he ever left there alone? When interviewed at Sutton police station, Aarij accepted that he had gone to the betting shop in Morden that morning to steal money.
That he had armed himself with a hammer beforehand. That he knew there was likely to be only one person on duty. At trial in November he was found guilty. In January he was sentenced to life in prison, with a minimum of 26 years. Ladbrokes paid a modest sum to Anita Iacovou and her family. Delicate mention was made of the murder. When a new branch opened in the Leicester area that year, it was added, like hundreds of others, to the list of Ladbrokes that could be run by one person.
In early , a woman in her 20s was interviewed for a job at the branch. During her interview, Miss X asked about the possibility of the shop being robbed. Really, though, nobody in the betting world can look forward to the spring, when chancellors generally shake down this industry with indecent rigour. In a decade when the high street has come out strongly in favour of thrift and convenience, betting shops have clung on as an unlikely modern super-presence.
Of course, they are not much use to the thrifty. If you mislay your little receipt, write it off. Who are all the shops for? Usually men. Their expressions often sullen. Privately, informally, staff divide the modern class of betting-shop punter into two broad groups: the Older Gentlemen in for the horses and the Machine Gamblers. He just seemed to want a place to be, and often cleaned up the discarded betting slips to help out.
Bookmakers buy lots of television advertising time to promote gambling through their websites and mobile-phone apps, while their vast estates of retail outlets go just about unmentioned. Betting shops can seem marginal places today, even through the eyes of those who run them.
Yet as pubs vanish, churches vanish, libraries vanish, the marginalised have not vanished. I soon realised that I only had to speak to men on the street — those who looked to be of retirement age and who looked to be doing nothing in particular. They had dispersed, since his death, to the Paddy Power a few hundred metres away, to the Stan James across the road, to the Ladbrokes on Tudor Drive, to the William Hill further along the A Who are all these shops for?
Four ought to be enough. An unintended effect of the Gambling Act may have been to encourage bookmakers to open more shops, and to move existing shops from the back streets to more visible parts of cities and towns. Locals in Great Yarmouth recently campaigned to stop a ninth betting shop opening in the town centre. Last year, residents of Thornton Heath tried to resist a 14th betting shop opening within a single postal district. After , bookmakers began to open their shops earlier in the morning and later at night.
According to the ABB, this was to broadcast and take bets on evening sporting events. But senior industry employees told me that it was to create extra hours of machine use — a feeling shared on shop floors. When I questioned the ABB about single-manning and other working conditions in betting shops, a spokesman pointed out that those who work in petrol stations and newsagents often do so alone.
Other industry sources said that lorry drivers and taxi drivers worked solo, too. The comparisons were not unfair, but they did not take full account of the nature of betting shops, or their peculiar presence. Known to be everywhere, known to have cash. As likely as not staffed by a woman, more likely than not staffed alone. They were often near pubs, nightclubs, takeaways, cab ranks.
They stayed open late. Ever since the extension of opening hours, branch workers told me, they had been more likely to have to deal with customers who were drunk or on drugs. They also told me about the other sort of difficult customer: the non-customer, bewildered, unstable, otherwise desperate, drifting in because they could not reliably expect to idle anywhere else during unsociable hours without being ushered on.
An employee of Ladbrokes in Birmingham, Harry Vale, was taken aback in to be asked by his area manager to start buying food and drink for people who came into his shop. But, then, Vale was pretty new to the business at the time, and a great many industry conventions can seem baffling to the uninitiated. That they had to be on the shop floor at all times. That the only time they were allowed to stay behind the counter was if they felt they had a very specific threat.
Mia Whitaker, 21 that year, was working in a Ladbrokes in the Moor area of Sheffield. She had good reason to want to stay behind her counter, her own Ladbrokes experience having been made horrible by two regulars, young taxi drivers, who came in to play the FOBTs or to watch sport. They offered taunting comments and gestures, coming in at night and when she was alone in the branch. Her manager suggested instead that he have a quiet word with the drivers — they were regular customers.
The taxi drivers knew what her hours were, and where her bus stop was. So for more than a year after that, until Whitaker left the job, the men kept coming into their local betting shop, where they could expect to play the machines, or to watch the evening darts, and to harass the year-old who was nominally in charge. Looking back on this later, after a season of contained and uncontained chaos in the betting shops, Whitaker would have reason to be relieved that things only went so far.
One weekend, the manager of a Ladbrokes in Scotland was robbed by two men while she was alone in her branch. She later described the experience. One of them pinned me in a corner with a hammer above my head, while the other one emptied the till. To me it felt like hours. In July, a Ladbrokes in Newcastle was robbed by a man with a seven-inch vegetable knife.
In August, a Coral employee in Ewell, Surrey, was robbed in their branch by two men, claiming to be armed. They stole money and a plug-in telephone. Branch workers around the country described to me a feeling during this period that they were being kept out on the shop floor as a hindrance, but no real impediment, to incident; on display like scarecrows, and about as formidable a deterrent. The same month, a man robbed a Ladbrokes in Welwyn Garden City by walking in with a bottle wrapped in wires and tape and telling the woman staffing the shop it was a bomb.
After the bomb squad had been and gone, and the thief traced and arrested, it transpired he was out on licence for another robbery, of another Ladbrokes, with another lone-working employee, in Staff and customers getting beaten up. People getting hospitalised. We were getting staff coming back to work [after incidents] with PTSD. They were shell-shocked. So you make your noises and you get on with your job. Others made noises. Nothing changed, and people got on with their jobs.
Evans had once been a low-level betting shop employee himself. He proposed that the government might consider legislation to insist that staff in shops be equipped with panic alarms, so that they could at least call for help if they got into trouble. Davies has more than once been accused by newspapers of receiving personal benefits from links to the gambling industry — allegations he has denied. Shoot him. October a Coral in Glasgow, a man carrying a piece of paper.
Johnstone could not sleep for months afterwards, and eventually entered therapy. Spokespeople for the bookmakers were often careful to stress to the public, after such robberies, that not much money was kept in any one location. Limits were strictly enforced — thus the compulsion for employees to pad themselves with cash mid-shift and scurry to the nearest bank — though branch workers questioned at times just what these limits were in place to protect.
After years of proud defiance, in William Hill informed its staff that they would now be asked to work alone in their shops during the evening. To the deputy manager and her colleagues, the move felt like a stunning reversal.
By October , executives at the company felt warmly enough towards single-manning to defend it from possible regulation. The deputy manager of a William Hill in Bletchley, Buckinghamshire, had not long before been released from hospital, his face unrecognisably bruised and his lung punctured after an attack by two machine gamblers who would not leave when he tried to close up his shop. He had been alone. The trio of Ladbrokes reps huddled with Brake around a table at Portcullis House and explained a possible new safety initiative.
In the meeting the MP asked the representatives if they would consider more substantial measures, such as abandoning single-manning. Multiple sources suggested that more tangible measures were being considered, such as portable panic alarms. Lie flat for more than 15 seconds and an alarm would be triggered. She was working the evening shift on Friday 5 June It was a quiet night. TVs in the shop broadcast foreign horse racing and a tennis match on clay at the French Open, but there were no customers in to gamble on it.
Miss X whiled away the time behind the counter on her phone. He wore a black T-shirt and faded jeans, and had his dark hair spiked with gel. Miss X opened the locked door that secured her service area from the shop floor, and checked the machine.
She found no fault. She returned behind her counter and picked up her phone. Minutes later, Singh again said there was a problem with his machine. This time, when Miss X emerged, he grabbed her by the wrists. Singh pushed her backwards through the service area and forced her into a bathroom at the rear of the building. On his way towards the exit, he tried to open the till behind the counter, but could not. Instead he picked up a bag of loose coins and left. Nobody was aware that there had been an attack in the branch until Miss X regained consciousness, at around Hiding in the bathroom, she told the dispatch controller she had been beaten, throttled, threatened with murder and sexually assaulted.
Her nose was broken and her neck was fractured. I think he lost a lot of money. Her youngest son answered the door. Anita apologised for not being able to stand up; she was suffering from a medical condition that made mobility difficult. Beside her in her chair in the front room she had packets of boxed medicine, a pile of letters and a tabloid newspaper, turned to the runners and riders for the big race.
Anita said she was still fond of betting shops, and that she had been down the road to the nearest one that morning. The Morden Ladbrokes where her husband worked had not reopened since the day of his death. Sheets of pale plastic had been put up in the windows where the posters had once been. Anita knew what had happened in that other Ladbrokes in the Leicester area in the summer of — the Daily Mail had telephoned her afterwards to ask her opinion.
She had followed developments in the Midlands since then, with pity and even some guilt. Senior figures from Ladbrokes were in attendance that day. There was a definite thickening of the atmosphere, guests recalled, when the priest sermonised about the value of money against the value of a human life. As we spoke in her front room, Ladbrokes was about to stage its spring AGM. William Hill continues to single-man its shops. Ladbrokes, in the weeks after the attack in the Leicester area, quietly suspended single-manning in surrounding shops, but it was soon reinstated.
They could expect it in every branch by January In January , the date for completion was pushed back to October Some had already tried to opt out of single-manning, they told me, and had been pressured into reconsidering. Vijay Singh was arrested on 7 June , two days after his attack on Miss X.
When he was brought to trial at Stafford crown court in May , charged with attempted murder, sexual assault by penetration, and theft, Miss X testified for the prosecution. The trial lasted just over two weeks — ample time for more incidents to occur. In Ware, a pregnant Ladbrokes employee was robbed in her shop. Meanwhile, in Stafford, at the end of a draining trial, the jury in the case was sent out to deliberate. They were gone for hours. At the back of the branch, behind the counter, a young employee read a newspaper.
He had a chunky plastic panic alarm clipped awkwardly to the collar of his red polo shirt. The other machines were idle, their high-definition screens programmed to flash through routine announcements: ads for the games that might be played on them, and bald warnings about the risks of playing these games incautiously.
One machine flashed a message, black-on-red, that told customers not to gamble when upset.
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