A HILL of Beath thief who broke into a corner shop and almost ran down a policeman in a getaway van has been jailed for nearly three years.

Mark Bratchie, 30, was driving the vehicle as it raced past the officer, missing him by inches, at 60mph in Crosshill before it headed into Ballingry, where he was caught after trying to run away.

A builder's bag full of cigarettes and tobacco was found nearby and as he was being arrested he bit the finger of a police constable, who had to go to hospital and be given penicillin.

Falkirk Sheriff Court heard that Bratchie was one of a gang of four who forced their way into the Spar store in Main Street, Thornton, with their faces masked in the early hours of October 7 last year.

Police were first alerted to the break-in by a neighbour, who was woken by loud banging, and saw men prising open the side door of the shop with crowbars at 2.50am.

Officers arrived to find the door damaged and insecure, while the cigarette gantry inside the shop had also been jemmied open and a quantity of tobacco products stolen.

CCTV showed a white van in the street outside, and four men entering the shop through the side door, one of them lugging a large white rubble sack, which was used to carry off the stolen goods.

The court heard the van was seen again at around 4.20am a few miles away in Crosshill, when it passed police at high speed.

An officer in the dog unit, who was standing at the roadside, made "clear hand signals" for it to stop, but it did not do so, passing him by less than 12 inches at an estimated speed of 60 mph in a 30 mph limit.

It then headed towards Navitie Park in Ballingry.

Officers followed it and saw Bratchie running away towards residential gardens, where he was arrested.

A builder's bag was found nearby which was full of cigarettes and tobacco products.

More cigarettes and packets of rolling tobacco were found in the van – which also turned out to have been fitted with false plates.

Depute fiscal Samantha Brown said that a footprint matching Bratchie's right shoe was found on the counter of the store at the point where the raiders had jumped over.

His phone was seized and found to have a message sent to an associate about 5.30pm before the raid, reading "Might do job. Might make a few grand. Fancy it?"

At 3.45am he was found to have sent another message, this time to his girlfriend, reading "Just done job. Plenty fags".

Ms Brown said Bratchie, who had been at the wheel of the van, was a disqualified driver.

Appearing by video link from Perth Prison, he pleaded guilty to theft by breaking and entry; dangerous driving; driving while disqualified and without insurance; and police assault.

Defence agent Zander Flett said Bratchie had not been aware he had bitten the police officer until after the incident.

Mr Flett said: "At the time he had been seized by two police officers and was being bitten by a police dog."

Sheriff Derek Hamilton jailed Bratchie for 34 months and disqualified him from driving for a further 10 years.

He said: "Clearly this was a planned operation. He told people in advance he was going to do it. He boasted about it thereafter.

"He clearly went kitted out for this break-in and it was purely for profit."