A man who attempted to steal £50,000 worth of heavy machinery has been sentenced to a year in prison after British Transport Police detectives used a paper trail, telephone records and the help of witnesses to link him to the crime.

John Devlin, 40, formerly of Watford, was sentenced at St Albans Crown Court after attempting to steal a digger, an excavator and a drive-on roller from an embankment near Croxley Met Station.

Alert locals called Hertfordshire police after spotting Devlin acting suspiciously and blocking Harvey Road with a lorry on 15 February.

Devlin ran off along a wooded embankment and entered a nearby house when officers arrived. He forced the owner to turn off all the lights and used her telephone to try and organise his escape, but left when the woman's husband returned home.

Officers searched the area and discovered the abandoned lorry next to the railway bridge in Harvey Road, Croxley Green. Devlin had gained access to the embankment by dismantling a metal fence.

From a receipt found in the recovered lorry and by tracing the calls made from the house where the suspect sought refuge, detectives were able to identify, arrest and charge Devlin with attempted theft.

Detective Constable Ian Burditt said: "We would like to thank the local residents for their vigilance and for providing crucial witness statements.

"This type of crime is very rare and dangerous and it was lucky that Devlin didn't injure himself or others.

"The 12-month prison sentence handed down to Devlin shows just how seriously BTP and the courts treat this sort of dangerous activity on the railway."