A couple woke to find two intruders at the foot of their bed in the early hours of a morning, a court heard.

The male householder was then repeatedly punched and threats were made to burn down their house, as one of the burglars produced a bottle of liquid, which appeared to be accelerent.

Durham Crown Court was told the couple’s pet dog was then grabbed by the trespassers, Rhys Evans and Billy Cook, as they left the premises in Horden’s numbered streets, at 4.30am on August 27, last year.

Susan Hirst, prosecuting, said when the female owner of the dog gave chase and pleaded for the return of her pet, Evans doused her in the liquid from the bottle and produced a lighter, threatening to set her alight.

The Northern Echo: Rhys Evans attacked householder and threatened to set light to her partner in aggravated buaglary

Miss Hirst said Evans only desisted with his threat after his co-accused told him to stop and, unsuccessfully urged him to return the couple’s dog.

Police were called and Evans was found hiding in a nearby hedge, while Cook was arrested at his home, from where the kidnapped dog was recovered from a brick storage ‘cupboard’.

In an impact statement read to the court, the female victim said she felt unsafe in her home and was “anxious” living there, fearing the burglars may return, and also not bearing to think what might have happened if the liquid thrown at her had been ignited.

She said the liquid smelled like, “something out of a garage”.

Both Evans and Cook were interviewed later that day and neither replied to any police questions.

They appeared in court for the sentencing hearing via video link from nearby Durham Prison.

The Northern Echo:

Evans, 28, of Trotter Terrace, Shotton Colliery, admitted aggravated burglary, making threats with a weapon, and two counts of assault by beating.

Cook, 26, of Milton Grove, Shotton Colliery, admitted a single charge of burglary, but on the basis there was no prior plan to break into the home, while he was unaware his accomplice was in possession of a bottle of accelerent.

The court heard Evans has ten convictions for 15 offences, including crimes of violence and a non-dwelling burglary for which he served a 36-week prison sentence, early last year.

Cook was said to have three convictions for eight offences, including assaults, obstructing police and driving matters.

Ian West, for Evans, said all that could be said in his client’s mitigation was that he pleaded guilty early in proceedings, last September.

Tony Davis, for Cook, said he was not, “the principal offender in the case”, and was, “at pains to disassociate himself from the offending", and had helped the, “unfortunate complainants to get their dog back."

Mr Davis said: "He played very much a secondary role,” adding that the time spent on remand had been his first taste of custody.

Judge Nathan Adams said it was hard to calculate how frightening the couple’s ordeal was, particular for the woman doused in a liquid she feared was petrol.

He imposed a total prison of 81 months (six years and nine months) on Evans and made him subject of a ten-year restraining order relating to the victims of his offending.

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Judge Adams said Cook finds himself in a different position, having urged his co-accused not to carry out the threat to set fire to the female victim and urging him to return the couple’s dog.

He passed a 16-month prison sentence suspended for 18 months and ordered him to perform 200-hours’ unpaid work.

Cook was also made subject of the ten-year restraining order relating to the victims of the crime.