Traumatised former soldier used alcohol to self-medicate
A SOLDIER traumatised by his war experiences made threats to kill a shopkeeper and to bash another in two drunken robbery attempts.
The former Australia Defence Forces soldier of 20 years was not armed when he tried to rob the two North Ipswich businesses within 10 minutes of each other.
In the Crown prosecution case, Mathew Gordon Smith, 39, pleaded guilty in Ipswich Magistrates Court to two charges of demanding property with menaces with intent to steal on Sunday, June 30; entering premises and stealing; and entering premises by break.
Prosecutor Chantel Phillips said the incidents took place in North Ipswich just after 5pm when Smith walked into a Caltex service station and demanded the male store attendant to "give me money from your till now, I will f---ing kill you if you don't".
The worker pressed an emergency panic button telling Smith to leave as police had been called.
Smith walked out but minutes later went into a Cellarbrations store demanding an employee give him money and threatening to bash him.
The male staff member initially thought Smith was joking and told him to leave.
The employee got a flash light from under the counter and Smith tried to grab it off him. Smith was again told to leave but continued to argue.
Police found Smith in Bremer Pde but he was too intoxicated to be interviewed.
Ms Phillips said it was accepted that Smith had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), had issues with alcohol, and while what he did appeared to be acts of desperation, it was directed at vulnerable persons.
Medical documents were tended to the court.
Police prosecutor Senior Constable Emma Ross said while Smith had PTSD and alcohol issues, police sought an 18-month supervised probation order for the lesser offences.
Defence lawyer Shaune Irving said it was not the case that Smith was an alcoholic or drug dependent but suffered the medical condition as a result of his ADF employment serving his country since the age of 17.
"He is a decorated veteran. His conduct commended," he said.
"As a result, he suffers catastrophic illnesses."
Mr Irving said his PTSD condition was relevant to his offending and to culpability.
Smith served in Iraq and did three deployments to Afghanistan.
His mental health had deteriorated and in the space of a week his brother died and an army colleague committed suicide.
Smith had attempted to self-medicate through alcohol and also gambles. He spent time in hospital for his mental health. He received $300,000 from the ADF and used it to buy a house.
At the time of offending, Smith had caught up with a former serviceman and had consumed alcohol and taken medication - "a bad mix".
"He was depressed and has little recollection of what occurred," Mr Irving said.
"When shown CCTV, he says 'I can't believe he did that. I'm utterly embarrassed'."
Medical reports show he had since engaged well with rehabilitative care.
"The court is dealing with a person with significant mental health issues. They are (military) service-borne injuries," Mr Irving said.
"We need to accept that he is ultimately a person of good record. His illnesses are a direct result of his military service to our nation."
Magistrate Jason Schubert said the challenges returned servicemen faced re-integrating into the community were well known.
He said while this might explain the offences, it did not justify behaviours before the court and the community was still to be protected.
Mr Schubert said Smith made threats to kill and bash shop workers if they did not give him money and then broke into a Thai takeaway shop in Limestone St. A door was forced open and $500 cash missing from the till.
While finding significant mitigation with his mental health challenges, Mr Schubert said a probation order alone would not be sufficient punishment.
He sentenced Smith to six months' jail, suspended and to a supervised probation order for 18 months that would include counselling and programs.
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