RELATIVES of two men convicted of robbing a post office at gunpoint gathered outside Guildford Crown Court to protest their innocence as they were jailed for a total of 13 and a half years last week.

The demonstration took place moments after Jimmy Stevens, 19, and Mark Thorne, 36, heard they would be locked up for five and a half years and eight years respectively for what the trial judge described as a ruthless crime.

When the jury unanimously found the pair guilty of robbing the Pirbright post office after a three-week trial, Judge John Bull told them to brace themselves for a prison term.

But their families slammed the verdict as a “travesty of justice.”

But passing sentence on Wednesday, Judge Bull said the robbery was “carefully and ruthlessly executed,” adding that both men took “exceptional care” to conceal their identities to avoid being caught.

He also referred to the impact on the two women post office workers who told the court they felt unable to re-open it for months.

The court had heard that in December 2001 a balaclava-clad Stevens entered the post office with a handgun and demanded cash — terrifying the two women working there.

Thorne waited outside by a Ford Orion getaway car before they fled together with £1,500 from the till.

A motorist who followed the car said when he caught up with the robbers they had set the car on fire and driven off in a second car — a VW Golf — which Thorne said he sold the day before the robbery. The Golf was later found burnt out.

Thorne, of Longacre, Ash, claimed he was working in Aldershot at the time, which co-workers confirmed.

But Judge Bull told the jury to determine whether the alibi was a “convenient shield” as Thorne did not give the same explanation on another occasion.

Stevens, of Winchester Road, Ash, said he was Christmas shopping in Aldershot, and had challenged detectives to check CCTV tapes of the town centre to prove it.

All witnesses failed to identify either man through identification parades, but the jury heard that DNA evidence taken from balaclavas and a sock discarded from the getaway car linked them to the robbery.

Judge Bull said anyone who robs a post office faces a lengthy jail term if brought before his courtroom.

“This is a very serious offence and there must be a deterrent element in the sentence,” he said.

After the case, Det Chf Insp John Boshier, of Surrey police, said: “The successful outcome of this case is due to the courage of the many witnesses who gave evidence in court, and a thorough investigation by a team of hard-working officers.”