UPDATE: The Crown Prosecution Service later decided not to seek a retrial and have withdrawn the charge of sexual assault against Royston Cottle

THE jury has been discharged in the case of a masked gunman who is accused of sexually assaulting the victim of an armed robbery.

Royston Cottle admitted taking part in the raid on a flat in Crediton but denied pushing his hand between the female tenant’s legs during the attack on January 26, 2023.

He and two other young men went to the flat in the early hours of the morning in the mistaken belief that the woman was working as a prostitute and growing or selling cannabis.

All three wore balaclava type masks and Cottle hit her with the barrel of an imitation pistol within seconds of her opening her front door to the trio.

A second robber Liam Ingham hit her and threatened her with a large meat cleaver during the terrifying ordeal.

Judge Stephen Climie discharged the jury in the trial of Cottle at Exeter Crown Court after they failed to reach a verdict during eight hours and 38 minutes of deliberation.

Mr Kennan Siva, prosecuting, asked for a week to review the case and decide whether to apply for a retrial.

During the week long hearing, the jury heard that Cottle allegedly called the woman a prostitute and a bitch before grabbing at her genitals.

He and Cottle ransacked the flat before fleeing with two phones, two bags, and a wallet containing £180.

Cottle, aged 21, of Cherry Gardens, Crediton, denied assault by penetration but the jury at Exeter Crown Court has been told that he has pleaded guilty to robbery and possessing an imitation firearm.

A second man, Liam Ingham, aged 23, of Bewsley Hill, Copplestone, has admitted robbery and possession of a bladed article and will be sentenced after the trial.

Cottle told the jury he, Ingham, and the third man, Oliver Checkley, planned the robbery while drinking at a pub and he and Checkley then went to their homes where they changed into black clothing and armed themselves.

He accepted he hit the victim across the head with the gun, pushed her backwards into a bathroom, and said “where’s the grow, where’s the money” before threatening to “blow her head off” if she didn’t tell them.

He said he escorted her around the house as they searched for anything worth stealing but denied taking her into a bedroom, pushing her onto the bed or sexually assaulting her.

He said: “I never went into her bedroom. I didn’t go in there at all. I took her back to the corridor and asked her where things were. I was never in the bedroom with her alone. I did not touch her.”

Cottle was arrested after returning to the scene after the robbery with Ingham, while police were there, but denied he was going back to try to have sex with the woman.

Asked about the attack, he said: “It feels all quite surreal to me now, to be honest. I was a bit anxious afterwards because I didn’t know if I would get into serious trouble with it.

“I did not really think about the impact on the woman at the time. I probably didn’t realise until after the first police interview when I learnt she was not a prostitute or a cannabis grower.”