A PUBLICAN has described how he found himself chasing a hapless jewellery thief "like in a scene from a Benny Hill sketch".
David Leigh, owner of The Smiths Tavern, in St John Street, Ashbourne, has been given a £300 reward for catching the burglar, who was this week handed a suspended jail term for raiding Chimes cafe and antiques shop.
Derby Crown Court heard that jobless Kevin Aston, 50, from Townshend Grove, in Birmingham, had waved a screwdriver at Mr Leigh when he was confronted by him in Wellington Yard on November 30.
Mr Leigh was at his neighbouring pub when Chimes owner Alison James raised the alarm at around 8pm on a Saturday night. He asked his wife, Michelle, to call the police, then grabbed a torch and ran to the shop. Through a window he spotted a man with his hands in a cabinet.
The court heard on Monday that jobless Aston sprinted from the premises, pursued by Mr Leigh, and when confronted by him in Shaw Croft Car Park, Aston waved the nine-inch screwdriver in the landlord's face. Speaking to the News Telegraph after the court hearing Mr Leigh explained: "I made an assessment of the situation and realised this guy was obviously more scared of me than I was of him but I was not going to stand any closer than arm's length away from the screwdriver.
"He then ran off and I chased him round and round the car park. I remember thinking at the time this must look like a Benny Hill sketch.
"He obviously wasn't very fit because it wasn't long before he'd slowed down to what was basically a stroll."
Mr Leigh spotted three Ashbourne Rugby Club members – Steve Jones, Alan Smith and James Lyon – who were eating fish and chips at the entrance to the car park.
He shouted to them for help and a chase ensued up Park Road until they caught the exhausted burglar. They sat him on a wall and kept him there until police arrived minutes later.
Alastair Munt, prosecuting, said: "The landlord kept him in sight until police arrived.
"The male had been holding a screwdriver and eventually surrendered."
After the arrest, Mr Leigh told police he had not been alarmed by the actions of Aston, who admitted carrying out the burglary.
Judge Ebrahim Mooncey ordered Mr Lee's reward from public funds and said: "He should be thanked for his public spirited conduct.
"He acted selflessly and said he didn't feel threatened or unsafe at any time."
But the court was told the raid had badly shocked Mrs James, who heard noises downstairs and realised a break-in was under way.
In a statement, she said the burglary had left her nervous about living above the premises and she told police: "I was absolutely petrified someone was in the building who should not have been. I feel my children may be in danger."
Aston was given a 20-month prison sentence, suspended for 20 months. He was put on probation and must pay £1,500 towards missing items and for repairs to the building.
He told the judge: "I am sorry for the people. I am sorry for what I have done."
Ian Watkins, speaking for Aston, said other people were involved in the break-in and had never been caught. Aston had health problems and lived in special accommodation which could be lost if he were sent to jail.
Mr Watkins said Aston was "relatively easily led" and "a man with vulnerabilities".
Mr Leigh has pledged to pass on some of his reward to Ashbourne Rugby Club as a donation.
He said: "I think I'll spend the rest on something nice for my wife in Chimes."