A HOMELESS thief who travelled the country stealing from charity collection boxes was caught thanks to the vigilance of the bar manager of a Lake District pub, a court has heard.

Now Derrick Matthews, 54, is beginning a five-year prison sentence for a string of offences that a judge described as “about as mean as it gets”.

And the bar manager of the Queen’s Hotel in Ambleside, is getting a £200 reward from Cumbria’s High Sheriff for the way he helped put an end to the silver-haired crook’s catalogue of crime.

Carlisle Crown Court heard that Matthews, who has been homeless for more than 40 years, committed offences at various locations in Cumbria as well as others in the Midlands and the West Country.

He was eventually arrested because when he walked into the Queen’s Head Mr Owen recognised him as the man he knew police were looking for. Prosecuting counsel Ben Jones told the court Matthews pleaded guilty to nine charges of theft and asked for four others to be taken into consideration.

The first of these was in October 2010 when he went into the Yorkshire Bank in Kendal, distracted the cashier by engaging him in conversation and slipped a Lancaster hospice collection tin from the counter and into his bag.

Matthews committed three similar thefts in the Midlands – one of them of a Royal British Legion tin just before Remembrance Sunday in 2012 – before he returned to Cumbria and stole a mountain rescue collection tin containing about £50 from the Queens Head in Ambleside on January 29 this year, Mr Jones said.

He then went to North Cumbria and stole a bottle of wine from a restaurant and a hospice collection box from a post office – both in Wetheral – and an animal refuge collection tin in Dalston.

On February 20, Mr Jones said, he took a mountain rescue collection tin from the Watermill Inn at Ings. And in October he was back in Cumbria again – taking a Great North Air Ambulance tin from a shop in Ambleside and returning to the Queen’s Hotel to take a Langdale and Ambleside Mountain Rescue Team tin.

It was then that the bar manager recognised him from a police appeal published in the media, the court heard. He made a citizen’s arrest and Matthews meekly sat on a chair in the bar until the police arrived.

Matthews later admitted all those thefts as well as four more – two in Grasmere, and one each in Ambleside and Kirkby Lonsdale. Passing sentence, Judge Paul Batty QC told Matthews: “It is difficult to envisage and understand anything that could be categorised as being more mean, more selfish and more soulless than this. It is about as mean as it gets.”