A violent criminal who had been on the run for 14 years was found hiding out in a Grove Park house after using the Gumtree website to commit a series of robberies.

Ex-con Thomas McDonagh, 34, had been wanted for breaching the terms of his licence back in 2000 but it was only in March this year when officers finally caught up with him.

In January, McDonagh met a 29-year-old 'man with a van' through the Gumtree website, pretending he wanted to use the victim's services. But when they met up  in Mayeswood Road, McDonagh assaulted him, spraying the victim with CS spray and stealing his van.

The vehicle was later found in south London with changed number plates, following reports it had caused several crashes and that McDonagh had leapt out and attacked one road user.

A few days later, another victim rang police claiming that he too had been assaulted with CS spray by a customer from Gumtree who tried to steal his van.

The IP address from Gumtree indicated the internet account had been set up at an address at Amblecote Road, which was visited by police on February 21. On that occasion, a woman opened the door to officers and claimed that other people must have been using her internet connection. 

But when police returned the following month, they found McDonagh hiding beneath a pillow in a bedroom. 

Checks revealed he had absconded from prison and officers also found keys to a nearby van, previously stolen from a victim at knifepoint.

On August 8, McDonagh was sentenced at Woolwich Crown Court to four years and six months imprisonment after pleading guilty to robbery, assault with intent to commit robbery, assault by beating and handling stolen goods.

Investigating officer Detective Constable Steph Pow from Lewisham Serious Acquisitive Crime Unit said: "McDonagh evaded capture for a number of years and thought that he would never be caught, but we finally caught up with him and he is now back behind bars where he belongs. 

"Far from trying to disguise himself or create a new life for himself, McDonagh continued to commit more offences whist on the run and thought when he was caught he could give us a false name. 

"I hope this sends out a very strong message to anyone who thinks they have got away with it that they will be caught."