A judge last week praised a brave 79-year-old Stewarton woman who fought off a would-be robber and helped snare him.

The High Court in Glasgow heard on Friday that pensioner Catherine Smith managed to scratch the hand of Thomas Gilheaney as he sat on her and demanded money.

The DNA of Gilheaney, from Kilmarnock, who had previously done gardening work for his victim, was found under her fingernails.

Judge Lord Mulholland jailed 35-year-old Gilheaney for five years after he admitted the attempted robbery at Mrs Smith’s home in on September 27, last year.

He told Gilheaney: “You forced your way into the home of a 79-year-old woman, who gave you employment, you pushed her to the ground, sat on her and attempted to rob her.

“She bravely fought you scratching you. You selected your victim because you believed she had money and was old and frail. Unfortunately for you, you were completely wrong and this brave lady fought you off.”

Prosecutor Lindsey Dalziel told the court that around 11am the doorbell went and Mrs Smith was asked by a teenage boy if she needed any gardening work.

The pensioner told him she did not need any work done and had hardly sat down when the doorbell went again.

Ms Dalziel said: “As she went to open the door it was forced inwards and the accused grabbed hold of her.

“She recognised him as a man called Tom who had carried out gardening work for her a few weeks earlier.

“Everything happened very fast. She recalled lying on the floor and the accused was sitting on top of her.” Gilheaney, a dad-of-one, repeatedly demanded: “Where’s the money?” The teenage boy appeared in the house and was told to search for cash.

However, Mrs Smith managed to scratch Gilheaney’s hand, push his hand away from her mouth and scream for help.

Gilheaney and his young accomplice both fled. Mrs Smith, whose face was bruised and bleeding, shouted for help and a neighbour came to her aid. Police found fingerprints on the front door which matched those of Gilheaney, who has previous convictions for assault to severe injury and assault and robbery.

Defence counsel John McElroy said: “This is a despicable and cynical offence perpetrated on a vulnerable and elderly woman and has had a significant impact on her.

“Mr Gilheaney is remorseful and ashamed of his actions. He was aware there may have been money in the house. He had worked for the woman before doing gardening work.”

Lord Mulholland told Gilheaney that, but for his early guilty plea, he would have jailed him for nine years.