A man who tried to stop thieves taking his van and was shot in the face, has warned others not to do the same thing.

The gang drove a car at him, then fired an air rifle at his head before towing his vehicle away. John Adams is now in the William Harvey Hospital, and has been told he may losed the sight permanently in his right eye. Mr Adams is a lock-keeper for the Environment Agency in Rye, Sussex, and ran outside when he saw two men stealing his work van on Saturday night.

He hadn't noticed two more thieves lying in wait.

''I turned - realised there was two blokes in another car'', he said. ''It mounted the kerb - come up behind me, I managed to jump over a small wall, there's a small wall there, and get away from the car. That went back on the road and then two blokes I was in chase with ended up on the drivers' side of the car and he went just shoot him. With that he pulled the gun out. I started backing off - turned to see where they was and got shot in the face. An then i heard just shoot him again.''

Sussex Police described the thieves as callous. The van was stolen after the shooting and later found dumped in Charing near Ashford.

Chief Inspector Katie Woolford advised people not to tackle criminals themselves. Police are appealing for witnesses: ''If you did see an Environment Agency vehicle being towed by another vehicle in the early hours of Sunday morning please do contact us,'' she said. ''We belive it's a small vehicle, potentially a black Corsa-type vehicle wirth four males, one potentially wearing a grey tracksuit and if you did see in the rye area or travelling towards Kent do please rung us so we can catch these offenders and bring them to justice.''

Mr Adams said: ''Just feel a bit stupid for doing what I did. On hindsight. Split second thing. Shouldn't have done it. I should have stayed indoors, left the police to it. That's what i'd advise people to do. at the end of the day i have had an eye injury for the sake of a vehicle.''

Witnesses should contact the Police direct or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111