THREE bungling armed crooks have been jailed for a total of 25 years over a botched plot to rob a G4S cash van outside a Kidderminster convenience store, thanks to quick-thinking neighbours who helped police track them down.

Craig Stubbs, his brother Michael, and Jamie Barton were foiled when the cash van, which was due to refill the ATM machine outside the Tesco Express in Stourbridge Road, Kidderminster, arrived an hour earlier than expected.

Judge Patrick Thomas QC, sentencing the trio at Worcester Crown Court yesterday praised the actions of a nearby resident, who had spotted men "acting suspiciously" at the rear of the store and called police, meaning the three men were caught the same day.

He awarded the woman, who was not named in court, £100 for being "extremely sensible and public-spirited".

Prosecutor Lynette McClement told the court that shortly after 9am on June 11, the woman had seen a white Audi pull up outside the store and two men got out and went down an alleyway to the back of the shop.

As the car was unusually "smart and sporty", and the men did not "fit" the car, Miss McClement said the neighbour became suspicious and decided to call police.

When officers arrived, they boxed the Audi in with their van, causing Craig Stubbs - the driver - to panic and try to drive away.

He deliberately crushed one of the officers between his car and the van and Miss McClement said the act was so violent that onlookers called the ambulance service in the belief the officer would be killed.

Three other officers were also injured in his getaway attempts.

Meanwhile, Michael Stubbs - who had been armed with a clawhammer - and Barton ran off through nearby gardens, dumping the hammer, their balaclavas and other clothing in a bid to get away.

Eagle-eyed residents and shoppers, however, noticed their escape and kept officers informed of their movements, meaning the police helicopter and dog handlers were able to track them down.

Judge Thomas added: "It seems there were a great many community-spirited people around this day who helped the police a great deal."

Craig Stubbs, 28, of Old Fallings Crescent, Wolverhampton, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit robbery, two counts of assaulting a police officer to avoid arrest and one of wounding an officer to avoid arrest.

He was sentenced to eight years for the conspiracy, to run consecutively to the six years given for each assault, which will run concurrently to one another.

Judge Thomas tempered that to a total sentence of 12 years, of which he will serve two-thirds, plus an extra four years on licence.

That, he said, was due to Stubbs' terrible record of previous offending, which included a seven-year spell in prison for wielding a gun in Wolverhampton city centre as part of a gang dispute.

Michael Stubbs, 26, of Higham Way, Wolverhampton, was sentenced to eight years for the conspiracy to rob.

Barton, 29, of Park Lane, Wolverhampton, was given a reduced sentence of five years for the conspiracy due to his comparatively good record and the fact he pleaded guilty before his co-defendants, effectively forcing them to do the same.

"You, together, set out to rob a security vehicle delivering cash to a hole-in-the-wall machine," Judge Thomas said.

"You set out with balaclavas and a hammer which, I have no doubt, was to be used as a weapon of offence. Who knows what use might have been made of it in the excitement of the moment.

"You were thwarted by the good sense, good judgement and courage of a member of the public and I have awarded her a nominal sum in thanks for her good sense and public spiritedness."