Sparta Burglar Watch was launched earlier this month by former boxer “Fearless”

Francis Jones, who has attracted national attention since he set up Sparta Security in 2007.

In full camouflage gear and using night-vision technology, Mr Jones and his officers are patrolling burglary hotspots in Darlington in an attempt to catch criminals in the act.

Last week, two burglars were caught by the private security firm, which handed them over to the police.

Mr Jones said: “It can be quite daunting, hunting for burglars across different parts of Darlington.

“It is something completely new – we go to the places the burglars go. Off the radar, down unlit paths, the backs of houses and buildings, everywhere really, and we try to be as covert and discreet as possible.

You see them out all the time, but hopefully we will put a stop to that.

“Last week I had to jump on a lad when he tried to make off on his bike.

“I managed to detain him, but I didn’t know he had a knife on him.

“It is a dangerous job, but that is the service we offer.”

Mr Jones hopes to expand his business by bringing in more officers. He said: “I want to build on this. I want it as big as a police force by June 2012.

“I am always on the lookout for lads to become officers – you need to be fit and game to do this job.

“I have been labelled a vigilante by people and I will defend myself if attacked, but mainly I just keep people detained until the police arrive.”

Mr Jones hopes his work will deter would-be burglars, and said: “They know we turn up randomly at our sites throughout the night and I think our appearance can scare them off.

“I caught a lad the other day, but he could not see me in the shadows.

“When I approached him, he looked startled and said he was just rummaging.

“I told him that I looked after the site and he made off.

I don’t think he’ll be back.”

A police spokesman said: “More eyes and ears on the ground to pass information to legitimate law enforcement agencies would be of use, as would any information from any members of the public.”