A ROBBER was chased down the road by neighbours after ripping gold necklaces from an elderly woman's neck.

Mrs Sheila Higson had been shopping and was returning to her home in Little Lever when Joao Carvalho crept up behind her as she put her key in the lock.

Bolton Crown Court heard how the robber put his arm round her neck and grabbed four necklaces she was wearing.

"The defendant tore the necklaces from around her neck and ripped her top in the process," said Juliet Berry, prosecuting.

"She fell backwards, causing her to land on her bottom with some force."

As Carvalho lent over her, the 69-year-old woman shouted: "Get off me — help."

Her attacker ran off with her jewellery while the pensioner, in a dishevelled state, went to a neighbour's house for help.

Tony Cook, 53, and his daughter’s boyfriend, Matty Webb, 26, described as heroes by Mrs Higson, jumped into their van and gave chase.

Mr Cook said: “I pulled up in my van and saw this lad come running past me and he looked like he was up to no good because of the way he was running. I heard Sheila say she’d just been robbed so I got back into my van and Matty jumped on the back and we set off.”

“I’ve never seen anything move so fast in my life,” said Mrs Higson. “I thought they were very brave. I just couldn’t believe what they’d done.”

Mr Cook and Mr Webb saw the robber in the backings near Church Street and got out.

“There was a bit of a kerfuffle. I took his bag off him then I saw he’d dropped a cross on the floor. I took it back and Matty followed him until the police turned up,” said Mr Cook.

“I couldn’t believe it when he returned the cross because I thought I’d never seen it again,” said Mrs Higson.

Carvalho, aged 22, was seen to throw something into a nearby garden. It turned out to be the rest of the necklaces, which were retrieved and returned to Mrs Higson.

The necklaces have a value of up to £4,000, but their personal value to Mrs Higson was even greater.

“The one with the cross was given to me by my daughter, Gillian, before she emigrated to Australia,” said Mrs Higson. “A pendant engraved with “Special Mum”, had been given me by my younger daughter, Elizabeth, and one chain had a pendant on it from Arabia, which I’ve had for 36 years, from when I used to live there. They could never be replaced.”

In a statement she told the court that the incident had shaken her up but she remains resilient.

Speaking afterwards, she said: “I’m a bit bruised, but you just have to get on with things. You can’t let someone like that keep you inside.

“I thought I was alright but then as time goes on I get a few flashbacks and I can still feel that pressure on the front of me where he got hold of me and tried to drag me, because all my top was ripped.”

When arrested Carvalho, of Derby Street, denied involvement in a robbery but subsequently pleaded guilty.

The court heard that the robber has no previous convictions in this country, but had previously been sentenced in his native Portugal for burglaries.

Jonathan Savage, defending, told the judge, Recorder Rowena Goode, that he committed the robbery at a time when he had fallen into arrears with his rent and was constantly tired due to sleep apnoea and the birth of his baby.

He added that Carvalho and his family faced eviction from their one-bedroomed flat.

"In the days leading up to the offence he was constantly being badgered by his landlord," he said.

"On the day he passed the complainant in the street. His mind was on the rent arrears and the impact it was having on his family.

"He chose her [the victim] because he saw the jewellery round her neck.

"He wants to apologise in person for what must have been a very terrifying experience for her."

Jailing Carvalho for 18 months, Recorder Goode told him that his victim, despite being "robust" had been affected by his actions.

"She has taken it, so far, in her stride, but you cannot minimise the effect of something like this on someone of her age," she said.

"It undoubtedly dented her confidence to some extent."

Mrs Higson said she could not thank Mr Cook and Mr Webb enough.

“They’re heroes,” she said.

Modest Mr Cook said: “I’ve lived here all my life. It’s a community so this is what you do for a neighbour.

“I didn’t think about my own safety, it’s only afterwards that I realised he could have had a knife, but I just acted on the spur of the moment.”