A PLUCKY pensioner who feared for her life after three bogus workmen conned their way into her house attacked the thieves with a shillelagh.
But Belfast-born widow Alice Irwin refuses to be labelled a hero and declared: "I did what anybody else would do in that situation."
Mrs Irwin, 67, who has lived in Church for 35 years, opened the door to a man claiming to be from the water board one morning in February at about 9.15am.
Burnley Crown Court heard how Mrs Irwin, who had previously suffered two heart attacks, was subjected to an "atmosphere of menace" by the man and his two accomplices.
But she swung the shillelagh, a two-foot-long ornamental wooden club, at two of the men, ordering them out of her house before unlocking the door and running to neighbours for help.
Two of the three culprits, James Connors, 18, and William Dear, 26, have each been given a 16-month jail term after admitting the "planned" burglary.
Mrs Irwin, a grandmother of 16, told the Observer: "I don't think I'm brave but I would do it again. This could happen to anyone and I tell people that they must stand up for themselves.
"One of the men told me to hold on to the taps in the kitchen to see if there were any vibrations but then I realised they weren't for real.
"I thought 'I'm dead here'. It was either me or them so I got one of them by the scruff of the neck and told him to stand still and I think I frightened him.
"I got the shillelagh and hit him with it. Then I unlocked the door and went to a neighbour who contacted the police. Every Irish person has a shillelagh in their house. It is just for luck and I had mine hanging on a wall."
The man who had been standing in the living room walked out of the house and the other two ran to a white transit van and the registration number was taken down by a witness.
The court heard that the police spotted the van shortly afterwards and there was a chase through Dill Hall Lane, Church. The vehicle then came to a stop and three men got out and ran away.
Neil Standage, prosecuting, said that Dear, who had a record for burglary and theft, was caught relatively quickly and Connors, who had previous convictions for banned driving, had jumped into a canal and swam the breadth of it in a bid to escape.
Sentencing the pair, who are from Leeds, Judge Beverley Lunt said the victim had been vulnerable but added: "You are lucky she's as robust as she is, bearing in mind she has had two heart attacks."