Exmouth debt collector who subjected innocent tourists to terrifying axe attack is jailed

PUBLISHED: 09:51 28 February 2020 | UPDATED: 12:19 28 February 2020

Ashley Drew has been jailed. Picture: Devon and Cornwall Police

Ashley Drew has been jailed. Picture: Devon and Cornwall Police

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A bungling debt collector has been jailed for subjecting two tourists to a terrifying axe attack after targeting the wrong address.

Ashley Drew smashed his way through the front door of the cottage in Welcombe, North Devon, while the couple were watching television on the first night of their holiday and demanded £3,000.

He and another attacker, who has never been traced, wore balaclavas and slapped the man around the face so hard that it cut his ear and both the couple, who are in their 50s, were bound with gaffer tape.

They were told they would be beaten unless they revealed the location of a safe and watched in terror as Drew and his henchman ransacked the cottage and took £100 from the woman's bag.

The attackers fled when they realised they were at the wrong address but left the victims tied up in gaffer tape on a sofa. They smashed their phones and took their car keys to stop them raising the alarm.

Drew was working for an illegal money lender from the West Midlands and was recruited because he lived in East Devon and was thought to know the area.

Police found the axe in the boot of his car after he was traced by DNA on the gaffer tape. His phone showed he had been in Welcombe on the night of the attack and had taken photos of the cottage before the attack.

Drew, aged 29, of Exeter Road, Exmouth, admitted aggravated burglary and was jailed for six years and nine months by Judge David Evans at Exeter Crown Court. He told him: "You threatened to hurt these individuals if they did not hand over the cash.

"It was clear to the victims pretty quickly you had made a mistake and gone to the wrong address but that did very little to mitigate their terror.

"They were both, very understandably, very fearful as you and the other man ransacked the house looking for a safe or any other location where cash may be hidden. It took quite a while before you realised your mistake.

"There was greater harm because you ransacked the property, the occupants were present and an element of violence was used. There was higher culpability because weapons were used."

Mr Richard Crabb said the victims arrived earlier in the day at the property in Welcombe, near Hartland, and were watching television at 8.45pm when they saw a figure at the window.

The door was smashed open seconds later and two men wearing balaclavas burst in brandishing an axe and a metal crowbar. They were looking for someone called Baker and were there to recover a £3,000 debt.

They had West Midlands accents and threatened to attack both unless they showed them where to find the cash. They slapped the man and told him they would attack the woman if he did not cooperate.

They realised after a while they were in the wrong place but left the couple bound with gaffer tape, smashed their phones, and took their car keys to stop them getting away to raise the alarm.

It took them three hours to free themselves and go to a nearby house for help.

A victim impact statement said the man, who works for the NHS, was so frightened of going out at night that he had to change his shift patterns and seek counselling.

Mr Adrian Chaplin, defending, said Drew had been living a law-abiding life working in Devon but was short of money and approached an old contact in Birmingham who is an illegal lender.

He was recruited to the debt collecting operation because he lived in Devon and was thought to know the area. He apologised to the couple on the night and is deeply remorseful for what he did.


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