Two men who disguised themselves in clothing traditionally worn by Muslim women and robbed security guards carrying cash to and from banks were jailed for a total of more than seven years yesterday.
Kingston crown court in south-west London heard how Anthony Roberts, 22, and Nicholas Bidar, 19, stole the Muslim clothes from Regent's Park mosque last June and used them to cover their heads and faces during a bank robbery in Kilburn, north London, later the same day.
The pair, who had committed another robbery three weeks earlier, had pleaded guilty to three counts of theft. The court was told that on each occasion their approach was the same. They would wait in banking halls before rushing the unsuspecting guards as they made cash deliveries and collections.
They would then speed away in a waiting car. Bidar was arrested on June 14 following a foot chase by officers but briefly managed to escape from custody a day later after assaulting a police officer. Bidar tried to escape again on June 23 by running from guards and trying to climb a fence. He also pleaded guilty to assaulting a police officer, escaping from lawful custody and attempting to escape from prison, and was sentenced to four years and three months. Roberts was arrested in Edgware, north London, on October 19. He was sentenced to three years.
Traditional Muslim dress has been at the centre of controversy over the past year. Jack Straw, leader of the Commons, ignited a political storm when he said he preferred visitors to his constituency surgery in Blackburn not to obscure their faces.
There was a policing row last December when it emerged that Mustaf Jamma, sought for the murder of policewoman Sharon Beshenivsky, escaped Britain via Heathrow by wearing his sister's niqab and using her passport. He is believed to have fled to his native Somalia.
Concern extended to the educational sphere after Aishah Azmi, a classroom assistant in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, was asked to remove the veil on the basis that children at the Church of England school found it hard to understand her. She refused and was dismissed.