MEN who took on a masked gunman and ended up threatening him with his own gun should receive public money for their bravery, a judge has said.

The group of neighbours confronted armed robber James Gowland as he tried to steal cash from the till at Stratton corner shop Ermin Food and Wine.

One of the men, who used to be a soldier, took the 31-year-old’s gun from his hand. Holding it against Gowland’s head, he tried to get the robber to say if it was real or loaded.

The posse, who lived nearby, were praised by Judge Robert Pawson: "Their behaviour on that day was breathtaking and it seems to me that that should be rewarded out of public funds."

Rob Welling, prosecuting, told Swindon Crown Court Jegan Kandaswamy was working at Ermin Food and Wine on January 20.

At about 11am he said Gowland went into the shop with his hood down, a scarf over his face, and brandishing a realistic looking starting pistol.

He pointed the weapon at the shopkeeper and told him to hand over the money or he would shoot him.

After opening the till Mr Kandaswamy stood back to let the raider help himself, which he did - also taking two bottles of Jack Daniel's.

But neighbour Hannah Wolfe had seen the masked gunman entering the shop and told her boyfriend Brad Fitzgerald she thought a robbery was taking place.

When he saw the hold up in progress he called out to his brother Ian and Hannah's dad Anthony and the three went in to confront the robber.

Mr Wolfe, who had a wood saw in his hand, took the lead and when Gowland saw them he turned the gun on them.

But the former soldier, who believed it was a real pistol, took hold of the barrel and twisted it away before the men put him to the floor.

Gowland did not reply when asked if the gun was real, or loaded, and though there was no magazine in it he wanted to know if there as a bullet in the barrel.

He then put the gun to Gowland’s head and asked: “If I pulled this will it blow your head off?” The robber did not reply.

The trio then kept him on the floor until the police arrived. Gowlands apologised, telling the group: “I am sorry, I have not done anything like this, I am alcoholic and have PTSD.”

He said he thought it would be easy to rob a small shop, but found to his cost it was not. He added: “I have done the wrong thing.”

Gowland, of Twickenham Close, pleaded guilty to robbery and possessing an imitation firearm.

Peter Binder, defending, said his client suffered from depression and had struggled with a number of bereavements.

He had got himself into debt to drug dealers and needed money to pay it off so made the decision to carry out the raid on his local off licence.

Once detained he said he immediately admitted what he had done and apologised. He had also written a letter to his victim.

Jailing him for two years and ten months, Judge Robert Pawson said: "You produced an imitation firearm to threaten harm. Mr Kandaswamy described himself as petrified.

"Set against that you have expressed remorse, written a letter to Mr Kandaswamy. You were apologetic almost immediately."

The neighbours who came to shop owner Mr Kandaswamy’s aid should be rewarded out of public funds, the judge added. He said Hannah should receive £250, the Fitzgeralds £375 each and her father Anthony £500.