A serial burglar has been jailed after he was caught red handed by two neighbours who saw him breaking into a bungalow in North Devon.

Steven Hommell was interrupted by retired firefighter Robert Morgan and his friend David Brooks, who had seen him sneaking into the back garden and opening a window.

He was inside the house at Yelland when they went to investigate and knocked on windows to flush him out.

They tried to make a citizens' arrest as he fled through a hedge but he fought them off and eventually made a getaway in a car.

The two men got a partial number plate which enabled police to arrest Hommell nearby. His DNA was found on the inside of a pair of gloves he wore during the burglary to avoid leaving finger prints.

Steve Hommell.Steve Hommell.

A judge at Exeter Crown Court commended both men for their bravery and persistence and awarded them each £250 from public funds as a reward.

Hommell is a serial burglar with eight previous convictions, whose normal method of operation is to break in through windows at the rear of houses.

He targeted Yelland because it is a quiet area with many retirement homes and bungalows. He had been freed half way through a previous sentence just weeks earlier and was still on prison licence.

Hommell, of Greenmeadow Drive, Barnstaple, denied burglary but was found guilty by a jury and jailed for four years by Judge David Evans.

He told him: "You wore gloves and this offence might not have been detected had not neighbours spotted you entering and gone to bang on the windows.

"They showed considerable courage and saw you exiting the property through a boundary fence or hedge, having dumped the gloves in a garden shed.

"You emerged into the road where you became belligerent when the neighbours challenged you. You were obstructive and aggressive to the police and came up with a cock and bull story.

"Your actions are aggravated by your previous convictions and your aggressive and intimidatory behaviour towards the witnesses, who were only looking after the wellbeing of a neighbour.

"People who show that sort of community spirit and show courage and persistence in the face of aggression, should be recognised and rewarded."

Paul Grumbar, prosecuting, said Mr Brooks saw Hommell breaking in on the afternoon of June 21 last year.

Hommell went to the garden, forced open a window, then went to an outhouse where he took a pair of distinctive red gloves, which he was seen wearing as he climbed into the building.

He was disturbed as he searched through a handbag which he had taken from a bedroom cupboard and fled empty handed. He fought off the neighbours before making a getaway by car.

Hommell told the jury he had been working as a roofer nearby and was with another, unidentified man in his car. He said the other man had carried out the burglary and handed him the gloves at some stage.

He said he was the victim of mistaken identity even though both men had picked him out in a video ID parade after his arrest.

The judge described his story as ludicrous and compared it to the plot line of a television drama, and adding that such extraordinary coincidences as he was suggesting do not happen in real life.

After the case Detective Constable Donna Money said: "Having your home burgled is up there with one of the most distressing things that can happen to you.

"To think that a stranger has broken into your home, snooped around your private space and even considered stealing something you have worked hard for, is horrendous.

"On this occasion, it was the bravery and quick thinking of two neighbours who witnessed Mr Hommell in the act, that has alerted police and led to his subsequent arrest.

"I thank the members of the public who continue to assist the police in reporting incidents and providing us with the evidence that assists in convicting criminals such as Mr Hommell.

"I welcome this verdict from the jury and hope that this sentence acts as a deterrent for others."