A PROLIFIC criminal who stabbed a have-a-go hero in the leg with a vegetable knife has been put behind bars.

When father-of-two Richard Meal returned from the shops to his home in Priory Street, Colchester, he found burglar Barry Hart trying to force his way in with a crowbar.

Hart, 51, tried to flee on his bicycle, but brave Mr Meal went to head him off at the front door.

He “rugby tackled” the criminal to the ground and in the ensuing tussle was stabbed in the leg.

Hart made his escape, but was later captured by police and charged with a litany of offences, including wounding with intent to cause grievous bodily harm, three counts of theft and four counts of burglary.

He later admitted each charge.

In one theft, Hart entered Colchester Mosque and stole a charity box containing hundreds of pounds.

In another, he snatched car keys from an Italian restaurant in Queen Street, Colchester, before stealing the vehicle.

But it was his confrontation with a defiant Mr Meal, in March this year, which proved his undoing.

Giving evidence at Ipswich Crown Court, Mr Meal said: “I was in disbelief, because it was 2.30 in the afternoon on a Sunday.

“I realised a man was trying to break into the house, that my children and wife were upstairs.

“In a moment of indecision I didn’t know what to.”

That moment quickly passed, as Mr Meal began shouting at Hart through the conservatory door, before rushing outside to tackle the raider to the ground.

Mr Meal’s wife, Sadie, was putting their children, aged one and three, to bed for a nap.

She heard the commotion and went outside, witnessing Richard stagger past her shouting he “had been stabbed.”

It was then she saw Hart, knife in hand, coming towards her.

“I didn’t want this man to stab me,” said Mrs Meal.

“He was staggering towards me and I was scared.

“He was maybe a meter away, I was backing off, trying to shut my door but it wouldn’t shut.”

Judge Emma Peters jailed Hart, of Chinook, Highwoods, for a total of 12 and a half years.