A BALACLAVA-CLAD youth who subjected post office staff to terrifying sledgehammer ordeals in two North Yorkshire raids has been jailed for 10 years, the Evening Press can reveal.

Anthony Michael Hughes was 17 when he and his accomplices burst into Rufforth and Tadcaster post offices in 2000, smashed their security screens and escaped with £28,000, Leeds Crown Court heard.

Postmistress Kathleen Balance feared for her life when the gang burst into Hill Top Post Office, Tadcaster, on October 11 and got away with £23,000 which had just been delivered, Geoffrey Marson QC prosecuting said.

At the time, Hughes was on bail for a £5,000 sledge-hammer raid on Rufforth Post Office in August 2000 and for providing stolen cars as getaway vehicles for a West Yorkshire gang of robbers who used imitation firearms, knives and other weapons for a series of raids. He spent £2,500 in six weeks before the raid that led to his final arrest.

The court banned publication of his sentence until today while his accomplices were tried.

"Using a succession of vehicles and masked, you terrified a lone woman in charge of Tadcaster Post Office," Judge James Barry told Hughes.

Hughes, of Coronation Parade, Halton Moor, Leeds, pleaded guilty to two conspiracies to rob.

David Michael Connor, now 29, of Leeds, was jailed for 11 years in June after he admitted his part in the Rufforth raid and another offence.

Mr Marson described how the pair burst into Rufforth Post Office in August 2000 with a third man now serving nine years for post office raiding. The trio transferred from one getaway car to another. In Tadcaster, realising they had been spotted, they abandoned their second vehicle with £1,000 and incriminating evidence.

For Hughes, Derek Duffy said he had had difficulties at school and at home that led to him mixing with bad company.

Updated: 10:05 Saturday, June 14, 2003