A MASKED, shotgun toting gang of armed robbers got way more than they bargained for when they screeched their stolen 4x4 to a halt outside Wolverley village post office one peaceful summer morning.

Bursting inside, they expected little resistance, for they had made their mark raiding what police described as “vulnerable properties”, small shops, off-licences and the like, usually staffed by females, who were understandably terrified by their menace. In one attack they had allegedly felled a pregnant woman with an iron bar. 

Kidderminster Shuttle: Courageous village postmaster Richard WatkinsCourageous village postmaster Richard Watkins

But behind the counter of Wolverley Post Office in June 2000 stood Richard Watkins and he was certainly not your average postmaster.

Described as a “gentle giant” by locals in the village, near Kidderminster, the 50-year-old stood 6ft 4ins tall, weighed 19 stone, had a shaggy grey beard and a  mass of matching grey hair. In different circumstances he might have passed muster as a professional wrestler. 

If the gang had done a recce on their intended target beforehand, this time their intelligence had gone badly awry. Because postmaster Watkins was having none of it. No criminals, armed or otherwise, were taking his family’s money and he fought back.

Despite being hit hard over the head with the butt of the sawn-off shotgun, he grabbed the barrel and tried to wrestle the weapon from the grasp of 29-year-old Scott Griffiths, of Wall Heath.

Kidderminster Shuttle: Press cuttings of the casePress cuttings of the case

At the same time, Mr Watkins still had hold of a lock knife he used to cut string on newspaper parcels and in the frantic struggle he used it, stabbing Griffiths four times and fatally wounding him.

The postmaster was later to say: “I really feared I was fighting for my life.”

The sight of blood dispersed the gang and the other two members dragged the heavily bleeding Griffiths out of the shop.

They bundled him into their getaway vehicle, a specially equipped Ford Sierra which had been stolen to order for the raid, ironically from a policeman’s driveway, and roared off. The car was later found abandoned in a Birmingham cul-de-sac with the body of Griffiths, a heroin addict, lying across the back seat. 

Meanwhile Mr Watkins had emerged from the post office, blood covering his face and shirt, to be met by a neighbour, retired GP Rod Summers, who had heard the commotion.

“Rod,” said the shaken post master, “I’ve been in a bit of a tussle.”

Kidderminster Shuttle: Press cuttings of the casePress cuttings of the case

The surviving members of the gang, 33-year-old Neal Frost of George Street, Wordsley, and Wayne Davies, 26, of Himley Road, Dudley, appeared before Worcester Crown Court in July 2001 when the full  extent of their criminal enterprise was laid bare.

Over a three-month period, they had roamed Worcestershire and the Black Country wreaking havoc at small businesses, netting up to £40,000, including £27,000 in cash. The pair were found guilty of nine raids with Davies sentenced to 17 years in jail and Frost 15 years.

Judge Mr Justice Curtis told them: “There is no mitigation in either of your cases. I have not heard one word of remorse about your victims.”

Kidderminster Shuttle: Richard Watkins re-opens Wolverley post office a fortnight after the attackRichard Watkins re-opens Wolverley post office a fortnight after the attack

He dubbed Davies – who protested his innocence and hurled abuse at the judge – the ringleader, adding: “You deliberately targeted safe targets because they were unprotected. In the case of the shops you realised they were staffed by women whom you knew you could terrorise.” 

Detective Chief Inspector David Gower, who led a 40-strong team of officers to investigate the robberies, said Frost and Davies were two of the “most extreme and dangerous robbers” he had encountered in 29 years of service. 

He added: “Mr Watkins was subjected to extreme threats and had a shotgun placed just inches away from his head. In fear for his life, he responded in the only way open to him.

“His actions on that day undoubtedly contributed to putting an end to the actions of this group of criminals.”

Kidderminster Shuttle: Post Office robbers Wayne Davies (top) and Neal FrostPost Office robbers Wayne Davies (top) and Neal Frost

Police handed details of the cases to the Crown Prosecution Service, which decided not to bring any charges against Richard Watkins, who was hailed a hero by his friends and customers.

Referring to the death of Scott Griffiths, Mr Justice Curtis said: “The decision not to prosecute the postmaster was wholly correct and a brave one in the light of some of the current views that are being bandied about.”