A MASKED armed robber held a lone female bookmaker's shop worker at knifepoint in a terrifying Greenock raid.

James Bowman lay in wait after dark until the Coral premises was empty before bursting in and brandishing a blade.

Bowman, 35, forced the woman behind the cash desk of the shop at Barrs Cottage and barked: "Gie's yer money!"

A sheriff who heard the 'quite horrific' circumstances of the assault and robbery said that security at the outlet appeared to be 'almost non-existent'.

The victim hurriedly placed bank notes from one till on a desk but bungling Bowman — who is today beginning near two-and-a-half-year prison sentence — missed the plastic bag he'd brought with him and dropped them on the floor.

He then ordered the woman to open another cash register and place the money in the bag as he held it open before fleeing with £245 in a mixture of £20, £10 and £5 notes.

Prosecutor Emma Jeffrey told Greenock Sheriff Court: "The accused ran from the locus.

"The witness pressed the panic alarm and called her manager in a distressed state."

Bowman, previously of Neil Street, had wrapped a wool scarf around his face before carrying out the robbery using a Stanley knife at Coral's Dunlop Street branch on November 21 last year.

Police found him a short time later standing in Neil Street with another man, and a search revealed the stolen cash.

Fiscal depute Miss Jeffrey said: "At 8pm a call was received via the alarm company and numerous police units were despatched and immediately attended at the shop.

"The witness provided a description of the accused which was immediately broadcast to all police units."

Defence lawyer Aidan Gallagher said: "Mr Bowman has had, and still has, mental health problems.

"He started abusing substances from the age of 11, and graduated to valium and heroin in his 20s."

Sheriff Derek Hamilton said: "It seems to me remarkable that security here was almost non-existent.

"A female employee was left on her own at night with all of these cash desks.

"I would have expected to see glass screens and this person not in danger, but she seems to have been in danger."

The sheriff told Bowman: "Having reviewed the CCTV of this incident, I think this was quite an horrific set of circumstances.

"You have a knife and approach an individual who is not someone protected by glass screens.

"This girl was clearly upset and frightened."

The sheriff added: "You have a previous conviction for robbery, although it was ten years ago and you were on licence for an offensive weapon conviction.

"You also have other convictions for assault to injury, so you are no stranger to violence."

Bowman was sentenced to 29 months imprisonment and ordered to complete a consecutive 160 days remaining from his previous sentence.