A MAN’S mental decline into "disgraceful" criminal behaviour culminated with him being chased away from the scene of an attempted robbery, a court heard.

John Tumilty stole a van and attempted to rob a shop after his life spiralled out of control when he suffered a ‘breakdown’ earlier this year.

His attempt to rob the shop in Hartlepool was thwarted by the quick thinking and brave actions of its owners who used chilli powder, a bucket and a chair to chase the defendant away.

Teesside Crown Court heard how the 32-year-old had borrowed a hire van from the company he had been working at for less than a week before disappearing and heading out on his mini-crime spree.

Jenny Haigh, prosecuting, said the £25,000 van and the £3,000 winch was never recovered after Tumilty stole them in September.

However, it was after he stole the van that his crimes took on a more violent and threatening nature.

The Northern Echo:

Miss Haigh said the defendant targeted Ananth's shop, pictured above, on Jutland Road, Hartlepool, and threatened the owner with an extendable baton before fleeing empty handed.

She said: "The defendant tried to put his hand in the till drawer, the owner managed to grab the chilli powder and throw it at the defendant and that made him back off and the shop owner closed the till so the defendant couldn't take any money."

It was at this point that the owner's wife joined him when she heard his shouts for help and hit Tumilty with a bucket.

In a victim impact statement the owner said he was now scared that something similar will happen again, especially when his wife or daughter are running the shop.

Miss Haigh said that another attempted robbery and two shop lifting offences from the same few days had already been dealt with at magistrates court.

A move which came in for criticism from Judge Stephen Ashurst after they took the ‘inappropriate’ decision to play down the impact of the offences.

Tumilty, of Westbourne Road, Hartlepool, pleaded guilty to theft of the van, attempted robbery and possession of an offensive weapon.

In mitigation, Ian Mullarkey, said: "He makes no excuse for his conduct, he quite frankly described it as out of order."

In a letter to the victims, Tumilty said his actions were a 'disgrace' and he was 'ashamed of himself'.

He said his client had not been able to cope with the aftermath of his friend's suicide.

Sentencing him to three years for attempted robbery and a further six months for theft, the judge said the attempted robbery of the shop had left a lasting impact on its owners after they had to fight off Tumilty's threatening attack.