ANGRY farmer Ian Stevens acted in the heat of the moment when he drove a baling spike into a caravan where a mother and her baby were cowering inside, a court was told.

Stevens, 38, of Crossing Lane Cottage, Langley Burrell, pleaded guilty at Chippenham Magistrates' Court on Monday to causing criminal damage to a Toyota panel van and a caravan on July 12.

Michelle Hewitt, prosecuting, said she accepted Stevens was not aware that the van was occupied at the time.

She said traveller John McDonagh, 18, his partner, 17, and their seven-week old daughter, from Ireland, came to Britain for a holiday with relatives.

On July 12 they left Swindon, but were unable find a campsite. When they saw an empty field, near Parsonage Way, in Chippenham, with an open gate, they drove in. Mr McDonagh unhitched the caravan while his partner and their daughter remained inside his Toyota van.

Mrs Hewitt said Mr McDonagh's cousin and brother-in-law were mending a fence in the field to stop cattle in an adjoining field escaping at 7pm, when they noticed a tractor being driven by Mr Stevens heading in their direction.

She said he chased the men around the field, before heading towards Mr McDonagh's parked caravan and van. He drove the tractor at the caravan, pushing it before turning it sideways and driving it into a fence.

The spike on the front of the tractor was driven into the door of the Toyota.

Mrs Hewitt said Mr McDonagh could see his partner and baby in the van and pleaded with Stevens to stop, but the tractor then lifted the van 4ft to 5ft off the ground.

It was shaken, but when it was dropped it landed upright.

Stevens then drove off into the middle of the field where he got out.

Mrs Hewitt said: "Stevens was overheard to say 'You've got me on a bad day.'"

She said Mr McDonagh's partner was briefly knocked unconscious in the attack and was taken to Royal United Hospital in Bath, for treatment for minor injuries.

Stevens was arrested by police and interviewed. He said he was worried about his cattle because he had had a lot of problems with them.

He told police a neighbour had told him there were travellers in his field and this was the straw that broke the camel's back. He said he took chains with him so he could drag the vehicles out of his field.

But Mrs Hewitt said Stevens told police he would not have moved the van if he had known it was occupied and admitted his action was taken in the heat of the moment.

John Elliott, defending, said Stevens had padlocked the gate to the rented field and put up a barbed wire fence after he had found the gate lifted off its hinges and part of the fence removed.

Mr Elliott said when Stevens arrived at the field on July 12 it was clear to him from tyre marks that his cattle had been chased out into an adjoining field and that upset him.

Mr Elliott said: "My client has been farming since he was knee high to a grasshopper and followed his father into the family business.

"This incident was totally out of character."

He disputed some of the evidence put forward by the prosecution, including a claim for costs to cover damage to the van. Magistrates ordered a hearing on Setember 9 to reconsider all the facts of the case.