BURGLARS who raided a Cotswold farm to steal a £45,000 tractor and baler fed the pigs to make sure they stayed quiet during the raid, a court heard.

A gang of travellers had masterminded the burglary at Oakhill Farm, Temple Guiting, but to avoid being caught they paid 19-year-old stooge Liam Bowkett£600 to drive the tractor and baler away.

Bowkett, of Chester road, Gloucester, who had been told by the travellers that it would be 'easy money' was the only one caught, said prosecutor Janine Wood.

Bowkett admitted the burglary on November 22 last year and was jailed for 13 months when he appeared at Gloucester Crown Court on Friday (January 24).

Judge Jamie Tabor QC sent out a warning that anyone involved in the theft of agricultural equipment in Gloucestershire would also be jailed because rural crime is far too prevalent.

Ms Wood said police went to the Temple Guiting area that afternoon after receiving calls from people at a local golf club who had seen some 'suspicious activity' involving a Peugeot car.

At 10.30pm that night officers saw the car in convoy with a tractor and baler and another vehicle in Winchcombe. The tractor had false number plates on it.

Later that night the police saw the vehicles again in Charlton Abbots and at 12.15am Bowkett was seen in a lane at Hawling. The tractor was found ten minutes later in the same lane half a mile away but the baler had gone.

A police dog tracked Bowkett's footprints back to the tractor, said Ms Wood.

It had taken some expertise to steal the tractor and baler from James Arkell's farm because they were behind a locked five bar gate, Ms Wood said, The gate had been lifted off the hinges and other security devices had been overcome.

It also took specialist knowledge to couple up the baler to the tractor she said.

Judge Tabor commented "The burglars had also fed the pigs to keep them quiet!"

Ms Wood said Bowkett told the police he had met four travellers in Gloucester and they offered him £600 to do some driving for them. They told him it would be 'easy money.'

"He agreed to meet them at 9pm. He knew what he was doing was wrong.

They drove him to the middle of nowhere and told him to wait by a gate as they moved things around.

"He didn't want to but they said they would leave him there if he did not."

Ms Wood said Mr Arkell the farmer had made a statement describing the the as 'extremely upsetting and financially crippling."

Judge Tabor commented "Yes, these are the tools of his trade. You can't farm without a tractor."

Con Fernandez, defending, said Bowkett was struggling for money at the time and stupidly agreed to take part in the burglary without engaging his brain

The judge said "The reason he was being paid so much money was that if anyone was going to be caught it was him."

Jailing Bowkett Judge Tabor said "Attacks on farms and outbuildings in general are very rife at the present time in Gloucestershire. Very rife indeed.

"Such buildings and farms are highly vulnerable because they are normally in isolated rural areas and it is impossible for farmers and householders to keep a close eye on their property all the time.

"As a result they are being targeted by gangs of people roaming around the countryside stealing valuable equipment.

"Tractors are very expensive and when a farmer loses a tractor and/or equipment towed by the tractor it has a serious effect more often than not.

"This type of offence is very prevalent at the present time in Gloucestershire and it has got to stop. The only way I can send that message is by sending people to prison. It's as simple as that.

"I accept that others planned this burglary but you formed part of their gang because you wanted easy money."