A car thief stripped off in the back of a police van then subjected officers to vile racist abuse.

Disabled John Hunter, who walks with a stick and is waiting for a hip and knee replacement, had been arrested after he was caught by the Mitsubishi 4x4's owner towing it away.

The 53-year-old had been taken out on a day trip by friend Michael O’Driscoll on Saturday, July 20 last year.

But rather than go for an afternoon stroll they went to the Rattlebone Inn in Sherston, hooked a Mitsubishi L200 up to their VW Golf and started to haul it away.

Unfortunately for the pair the pick-up’s owner saw his vehicle being towed and gave chase in a friend’s car.

Prosecutor Kate Prince said Hunter was behind the wheel of the Golf and O’Driscoll was steering the 4x4.

The twosome were soon brought to a halt and the owner of the stolen car, Tom Ponting, grabbed the keys from both men.

Ms Prince said Hunter got out of his car, shouted at Mr Ponting and him and tried to hit him with his walking stick.

He was taken to Melksham police station and aimed a racial slur at custody officer Kavi Ramsewack.

Officers were worried about the man’s health and decided to drive him to the Royal United Hospital in Bath.

On the way there he took all his clothes off and exposed his privates. He refused to get out of the van and began hitting his head against the vehicle.

Hunter started to verbally abuse the officers. He told PC Evangeline Templar, who is of mixed race: “Go back to your own country.”

He was warned about his language but repeated the comment.

In a victim statement Ms Templar told the court: “I’m a police officer and I come to work to help people. Even though I wear a uniform I’m a human being, I have feelings.”

Custody officer Mr Ramsewak said: “I feel targeted and victimised because of the colour of my skin.”

Hunter, of Hudson Road, Malmesbury, pleaded guilty to theft of a motor vehicle, common assault, driving without insurance or a licence, and two counts of racially aggravated disorderly behaviour.

Defending, Mark Glendenning said his client wanted to apologise to the officers and the court.

On the day he was arrested he had grown agitated as he had not felt he had done anything wrong. “It’s entirely inappropriate, he accepts that, and he offers his apologies to the court.”

Mr Glendenning said: “Mr Hunter walked into court with a stick. He has decreased mobility and does not get out as much as he might like and this gentleman takes him out and about on occasion.”

It was this friend who had stolen the 4x4. Hunter had not realised the car was stolen.

Magistrates sentenced Hunter to a 12-month community order. He must comply with an eight week curfew and pay £100 compensation to each officer.

O’Driscoll was jailed last year for the car theft and other matters.