A GANG of masked intruders have been jailed for carrying out a terrifying night time raid on a couple who they wrongly believed to be drug dealers.

Royston Cottle armed himself with a realistic looking handgun and his friends Liam Ingham and Oliver Checkley were carrying knives as the barged into the flat in Crediton and demanded cannabis or cash.

Oliver Checkley.
Oliver Checkley. (DCP)

Cottle used the handle of his pistol to hit the bewildered woman occupant as she answered the door and she was then dragged around from room to room as Ingham ransacked the flat and Checkley stood guard outside the front door.

Ingham used his knife to stab a hole in a bathroom door in an attempt to force the woman into telling them where her drugs were hidden.

Her partner had fled the building and was prevented from going back to help her by Checkley.

All three wore masks of balaclavas and were armed and both Cottle and Checkley accused the woman victim of being a prostitute.

She was hit with the gun and Cottle told her he would “blow her head off”.

They only left when they realised there were no drugs to steal but still made off with two mobile telephones, two bags, and a wallet containing £180.

Cottle told the victim that he would be back “as a client” and both he and Ingham were arrested when they returned to the scene an hour later and started trying to talk to the police who were busy sealing off the area.

The victim, who was being comforted by officers as she sobbed on the pavement outside her home, recognised their voices and identified them to police as her attackers.

The three young men had been smoking cannabis together before they all went out drinking at a pub in Crediton High Street, where they hatched the plot to raid the house.

Ingham was already carrying a meat cleaver while Cottle and Checkley went home to change into dark clothing and masks and pick up weapons including the imitation gun which Cottle kept in a bedside cabinet.

Cottle, aged 23, of Cherry Gardens, Crediton, and Ingham, aged 23, of Bewsley Hill, Copplestone, both admitted robbery and possession of weapons while Checkley, aged 21, of Butts Park, Crediton, admitted conspiracy to steal and possessing a knife.

Ingham also admitted an earlier affray in which he carried out an attack on a cyclist by knocking him off his bike with a baseball bat which was thrust out of a back window of a passing car in which he was a passenger.

He was jailed for eight years, Cottle for seven-and-a-half, and Checkley for two years by Judge Stephen Climie at Exeter Crown Court.

He told them: “The three of you formulated a plan to attack the home of two wholly innocent people in the mistaken belief there was a significant quantity of cannabis present there.

“You intended to steal it, no doubt for the purpose of selling it. The plan involved a significant degree of preparation. Each of you armed yourselves and did your best to ensure that your identities were disguised.

“The occupants were confronted with immediate threats of very serious violence. You, Cottle may have known it was an imitation firearm but nobody other than you did. The threats were followed by actual physical violence while Checkley remained outside, primarily as a lookout.

“You were all responsible for inflicting a terrifying event on the victim.”

Mr Kennan Siva, prosecuting, said the attack took place in the early hours of January 26 last year when all three men went to the flat near the centre of Crediton.

Her partner managed to flee but was attacked and threatened with the gun and a knife.

Barristers representing all three defendants said they were very young and immature at the time and had acted out of stupidity and bravado.