WOMEN were hijacked in their cars and forced at knifepoint to hand over money in two terrifying robberies committed by a dad-of-three desperate for drugs.
Former charity worker David Da Costa, aged 30, targeted two lone women at the NCP car park on Sidney Street in Sheffield city centre, holding a knife to their ribs and demanding they hand over cash.
Sheffield Crown Court heard Da Costa made his first victim - a 35-year-old mature student - drive him around as he rifled through her handbag. He forced his second victim, aged 25, to drive to a garage to withdraw money from a cashpoint.
The first woman said she believed Da Costa was going to kill her. “I thought I was going to end up in a container somewhere. This has been the scariest moment in my life,” she said.
Da Costa, a dad-of-three originally from Portugal who moved to Britain a decade ago, used to work for Christian charity Remar UK.
But he lost his job and home after his marriage broke down and he developed a crack habit.
Susan Evans, prosecuting, said the first robbery happened on March 23 when the student returned to her car on Sidney Street at around 4.30pm after attending a seminar.
She said Da Costa opened the passenger door and got inside her car while she was sending a text message.
“He grabbed hold of her phone and she felt him shoving an object into the side of her ribs,” Miss Evans said. “The defendant threatened to cut her.”
Miss Evans said Da Costa told the woman to drive out of the car park, searching through her handbag. He took her mobile phone and £50 in cash.
“He directed her to drive somewhere quiet, then exited her vehicle,” she said. “The defendant was inside her car for some 15 minutes.”
In a statement read to the court, the victim said the robbery left her feeling ‘terrified and upset’. She drove to her daughter’s house and called the police after her ordeal was over.
“I honestly thought I was going to be kidnapped and killed,” she said.
The second woman parked her car on Sidney Street at 6pm the next day, when Da Costa tried her passenger door handle and tapped on the window as she paid for parking using her phone.
“She looked across, winding down the window six inches. He started to ask for directions but put his arm through the passenger window. He held the knife to the complainant’s cheek, telling her this was a robbery.”
Da Costa opened the door, got into the car and held the knife against the woman, demanding money.
“She told the robber she didn’t have any, and he demanded she drive to get some,” Miss Evans said. “She drove out of the car park and followed his directions.”
The 25-year-old drove the robber through Sheffield, stopping at a garage forecourt.
“She got out with the defendant behind her, and withdrew cash from the cash machine,” Miss Evans said. She handed over the money and Da Costa left with £120.
Da Costa was arrested on March 25 on Leadmill Street, near the scene of the robberies. Both women picked him out in an ID procedure and police found a brown-handled lock knife in his pocket, along with an NCP car park token and a crack pipe.
His fingerprints were also found on the women’s car doors.
Initially Da Costa made no comment in interview, but after being identified denied any involvement.
Timothy Savage, defending, said the robber had no previous convictions and was “very sorry”.
“It was obviously a terrifying experience for the victims but on the other hand it’s not the most extreme case of its kind,” he added. “It was motivated by desperation rather than avarice.”
Mr Savage told the court Da Costa has children aged three, five and eight, and that his marriage ‘fell apart’ in January. He said he had been a cannabis user, but then graduated to using crack.
“His drug use took hold and he lost his job. The money ran out and he found himself living on the streets with no access to any funds,” he added. Da Costa’s wife has since taken him back and visited him in custody, the court heard.
Da Costa, of no fixed address, admitted kidnap, robbery, and possessing an offensive weapon, and was jailed for seven years.
Judge Alan Goldsack QC, sentencing, said: “These are, collectively and individually, extremely serious offences.”