The neighbour of a disabled pensioner has described the chilling screams of the man's wife when the couple became trapped in their burning home.

Norman Mollon, 74, told how neighbours Robert and Sheila Bryden, both 66, narrowly escaped with their lives when smoke and flames ripped through their home in Grape Lane, Durham City, on Boxing Day.

It's thought the fire started when Mr Bryden, who is partially-sighted and has to use a walking frame, fell asleep in bed with a lit pipe.

Neighbour Mr Mollon described how he heard the anguished screams of Mrs Bryden as she tried to pick her husband up after he fell off the burning bed.

Now recovering at Kepier House nursing home in Gilesgate, the couple refused hospital treatment after they escaped their bungalow unharmed.

Mr Mollon said: "I was just listening to the football on the radio when I heard an almighty scream from next door.

"I went to my front door and there was smoke billowing everywhere. "I pulled the emergency cord that connects our bungalows and, thankfully, the police were here in minutes.

"After they got out they sat in my house all night and told me they panicked when the house started to fill up with smoke.

"He is practically bed-bound so Sheila, who always looks after him, was very upset when he fell off the bed.

"After paramedics checked them over I gave them some blankets and food and after half-an-hour or so they were champion."

Four Durham policemen were the first on the scene after the alarm was raised at around 4.45pm.

PCs Jeff Barksby and James Somersall found Mr Bryden slumped on the floor near the front door so they dragged him out, then PCs Andrew McDonald and Peter Smith helped his wife to safety.

PCs Somersall and Smith then went back into the smoke-filled house to check the gas cooker for faults, but found it was fine.

Acting Insp Dave Tweddle said: "All the officers acted courageously and bravely during this incident."