London, October 15 : Stealing the handbag of a 68-year-old grandmother was apparently a very unusual experience for three teenaged thieves because the woman turned out to be a great sprinter.
The incident took place when Janet Lane, the 5ft 6in grandmother of two, was sitting on a bench near the Riviera International Centre in Torquay, Devon.
Three teenagers suddenly grabbed her handbag that was containing 100 pounds in cash, her mobile phone, an umbrella, a first-aid kit, and a present that she had just bought for a friend.
Lane, who had won the Yorkshire cross-country championship as a schoolgirl in 1953 and kept herself in shape ever since, set off in pursuit, chasing them 100 metres across a park, and into the grounds of a hotel.
Despite wearing sandals, she managed to catch up and grabbed one of the youths by the collar.
The youth, about 15 years of age, dropped her bag and begged to be let go.
All three escaped empty-handed.
"Those boys saw a little old lady and thought I was easy pickings, but there was no way I was going to sit there and let them get away with it. I was so angry when they took it. I had been to collect my pension and I had water rates to pay with that money," Times Online quoted Lane, a retired nurse, as saying.
"My first reaction was, 'They are not having my bag'. I used to be a very good runner when I was younger so I just got up and ran after them," she added.
A spokesman at the Inglewood Hotel, in Torquay, where Mrs Lane chased them to ground, said: "There was quite a commotion outside as the lady ran by chasing the boys. Her shouting alerted two waiters who were putting up decorations and they tried to stop them as well."
Devon and Cornwall Police warned people against following Lane's example.
A spokesman said: "Generally, for safety reasons, we do not actively encourage this kind of behaviour, as you never know what could happen. But we understand this woman is a former cross-country runner and did not feel able to let it go."