BRAZEN thieves who stole £3,000 of solar panels from outside a disabled woman's home in the dead of night had been out 'hedgehog hunting'.

Stephen Burtenshaw and Tony Davis loaded the panels, which had yet to be installed, into a flat-bed van but were spotted by a neighbour in Pershore.

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Burtenshaw, 54, of Hemmingway, Evesham, and Davis, 33, of Rynal Place, Evesham, admitted theft on June 28 this year when they appeared before magistrates in Worcester on Thursday.

Worcester News: GUILTY: Stephen Burtenshaw at an earlier hearing at Worcester Magistrates CourtGUILTY: Stephen Burtenshaw at an earlier hearing at Worcester Magistrates Court

Melanie Winterflood, prosecuting, said the eight panels were worth £5,000 - but that the pair stole five of them, worth £3,125.

Miss Winterflood: "This was an offence that took place during the night-time, about 1.20am. A neighbour of the victim heard a noise, a van driving past several times which they thought was unusual."

Worcester News: HUNT: The men claimed they were out hedgehog hunting. Photo: Getty ImagesHUNT: The men claimed they were out hedgehog hunting. Photo: Getty Images

The neighbour saw two males getting out of the van and loading the panels into the back before driving off.

Miss Winterflood: "The neighbour alerted the victim and contacted the police.

"There were eight solar panels being stored on pallets in front of the property. Five were removed and put into the van."

Police found the van 'a short time later within the same area'. The van was stopped at 1.45pm, just 25 minutes after the theft.

"They hadn't got very far at all," said Miss Winterflood.

Worcester News: PLEAS: Both Tony Davis and Stephen Burtenshaw entered early guilty pleas at Worcester Magistrates CourtPLEAS: Both Tony Davis and Stephen Burtenshaw entered early guilty pleas at Worcester Magistrates Court

The solar panels were found intact and were 'returned to the owner in a short space of time'. In a victim personal statement, the owner of the panel said she had 'spent her life savings on the solar panels'.

"She is a registered disabled person" said Miss Winterflood.

She described how the theft 'upset her nerves' and that the victim had struggled to sleep for a week.

However, the prosecutor said there was no evidence she was deliberately targeted and she was not ultimately left out of pocket.

Andrew Wakeman, defending both men, said: "What they were going to do was go out hedgehog hunting. That was his intention, to go out with Mr Davis. There was no intention to go out and steal any items."

He referred to the theft of the solar panels as an opportunistic offence and argued there was 'little or no planning'. 

Burtenshaw was made subject to a community order and was placed on 12 week daily electronically monitored curfew between 9pm and 7am.

He was also ordered to make a contribution to costs of £90 and a victim surcharge of £114 which will be consolidated with his other court debts which are being deducted from his benefits. 

The sentence of Davis was adjourned until August 16 to await the outcome of another court case.