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Murder victim suprised raiders jury told

PUBLISHED: 10:43 17 October 2001 | UPDATED: 10:40 03 March 2010

MASKED robbers who raided an Ipswich pub never expected barmaid Janet Fleming to still be there, a witness has told a murder trial.

Lavita Smith, who told the jury she acted look-out during the robbery at Harleys pub, said her then boyfriend Leon Sobers spoke to her after the events at the pub that night during which the 38-year-old mum suffered fatal head injuries.

MASKED robbers who raided an Ipswich pub never expected barmaid Janet Fleming to still be there, a witness has told a murder trial.

Lavita Smith, who told the jury she acted look-out during the robbery at Harleys pub, said her then boyfriend Leon Sobers spoke to her after the events at the pub that night during which the 38-year-old mum suffered fatal head injuries.

"He said that they was doing a robbery and that Janet was still there when they came downstairs. She was there with the landlord and they didn't expect Janet to be there and basically Leon had taken the landlord to get the money and that Damien chased after the woman - that was Janet, and then he done what he done," Miss Smith told a jury at Norwich Crown Court yesterday.

"I kept asking Leon why and he kept saying he didn't know and it wasn't his fault and he didn't actually see what Damien had done because he was inside the pub and Damien was outside."

Leon Sobers, 23, of Birkfield Drive, and Damien Duberry, 21, of Morland Road, are accused of murdering Ms Fleming who died two days after the alleged pub raid which took place on December 10 last year. Both are also accused of robbing temporary pub landlord Andrew Hull of a gold bracelet and £285.74. Sobers and Duberry deny the charges.

The Honourable Mr Justice Moses told the jury of three women and nine men that Miss Smith's comments concerning what Sobers had said about Duberry could not be used as evidence against Duberry but could be considered only against Sobers.

Miss Smith, who had been living with Sobers in a flat in Birkfield Drive at the time, said they had gone to stay at Sobers mother's house and at a bed-and-breakfast hotel in Ipswich in the days following the alleged attack.

"We thought we'd just get away from the flat because of what had happened, what happened to Janet Fleming," Miss Smith said, responding to questions about events from Elizabeth Marsh, QC, prosecuting.

After the attack, Sobers drew Miss Smith a map and asked her to find the yellow masks the robbers wore during the robbery, she said, describing how a brief search failed to find them.

"He just wanted me to go to a bushed area down the road from Harleys pub and see if I could see some masks," Miss Smith said.

She told the court the masks were made from the sleeves of a T-shirt belonging to Sobers.

The day after the pub raid, Sobers asked Miss Smith to hide the T-shirt from which the masks had been cut and she concealed them under a carpet in the couple's flat, she said.

When later she told Sobers where she had hidden the shirt, he "went into the bathroom and was ripping up something and then flushing the toilet", she said.

Nigel Lithman, QC, defending Sobers, asked Miss Smith why she had lied repeatedly to police who quizzed her about events of December 10.

"I was scared at first. I didn't know how to handle it," she said.

Miss Smith denied Mr Lithman's suggestion that she was party to the planning of a robbery that took place with her involvement but "without the involvement of Sobers". And she denied Mr Lithman's suggestion that, in a "vile temper" she had said to Sobers that she would "make sure he did life".

Mr Lithman asked Miss Smith if she had told Sobers her cousin had "cased" a burglary at a pub at the Stoke Park Centre.

He asked her if she had "asked Duberry and Leon if they wanted to make some money and that Talbot (her cousin) needed someone to help him". He also asked Miss Smith if Sobers had told Duberry she was full of rubbish, at which she had become upset.

"I'm not the type of person to be planning a robbery," Miss Smith replied. And she denied Mr Lithman's suggestion that after an argument on December 10 with her boyfriend, she had not seen him again until the following day.

She also denied that she had asked Sobers for an alibi for herself for the night of December 10 and he had refused.

"No, that's not what happened," she said.

The trial continues today.

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