UPDATE: The jury was later discharged after failing to reach a verdict on the sexual assault charge against Royston Cottle. Crown Prosecution Service decided not to seek a retrial and have withdrawn the charge of sexual assault against him.

A MASKED gunman has told a jury that he took part in a robbery at a flat in Crediton but denied sexually assaulting the woman who lived there.

Royston Cottle was one of a group of three young men who burst into the flat at 2am in the mistaken belief that its occupants were growing cannabis and had cash on the premises.

He was armed with an imitation handgun which he used to hit the terrified occupant as she opened the door on the trio, who were all wearing balaclava masks.

The other two were both armed with knives and Cottle and his friend, Liam Ingham, ransacked the flat in an attempt to find hidden drugs or money.

Cottle is alleged to have accused the woman of being a prostitute during the raid in which she says he pushed her onto a bed, held her by the throat, and put his hand between her legs.

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

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 that Ingham had suggested robbing the flat while they were drinking with another friend called Oliver Checkley at a pub in Crediton High Street on January 26 last year.

He said Ingham was already carrying a meat cleaver while he and Checkley went home to change into dark clothing and he picked up the imitation gun which he kept in his bedside cabinet.

He said he had smoked cannabis earlier in the day and drunk some alcohol but was not drunk. They had all gone to the flat where Ingham had knocked on the door and he had pushed his way in when it was opened by the woman.

He said he hit her 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.

Cottle said Ingham joined in by banging the woman’s head against the basin and they then took her through the flat as they searched it without success, eventually leaving with two phones, a bag and a purse containing £180 cash.

He denied the woman’s allegation that he had taken her into her bedroom and assaulted her sexually while accusing her of being a prostitute and saying he would be back in 20 minutes as a client.

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.”

The trial continues.