A suspected fuel thief, who realised that the Wiltshire police helicopter searching for him had heat-detecting equipment on-board, dived into the nearest dung heap hoping to avoid being detected.

The crafty suspected crook, a Lithuanuan living in Ilford, Essex, knew he had to find somewhere warm to hide in the hope of evading detection by the cops’ thermal imaging camera.

In the middle of the countryside near Marlborough, the man had no choice but to head for the hottest thing he could find - a huge pile of rotting farmyard manure.

But after running from his van, which was fitted with a huge tank in the back and pumping equipment, the suspect was so hot that even in the warmth of the dung-heap at Red Barn Farm at Manton he glowed on the chopper’s heat-detecting screen even redder than the manure.

Police officers on the ground were directed by the chopper’s police observer to the steaming pile of manure where they apprehended the feckless felon and arrested him.

One police insider said: "He gave up quietly when he realised he was in the s**t in more ways than one."

Police launched their search after a member of public spotted a van with a large fuel tank in the back and suspected whoever had been driving the vehicle had been looking for fuel to steal.

It was nearly midnight when the van was discovered and police received a 999 call so they dispatched the helicopter as well as response officers on the ground.

Many farmers have stocked up with extra diesel and petrol for their tractors because of the possibility of a fuel drivers’ strike.

When police examined the van they found a 1,000 litre tank in the back had some fuel in it already together with pumping equipment.

With the help of the helicopter and its heat-seeking detection device the suspect was located nearby hiding in a manure heap and he was arrested on suspicion of going equipped to steal.

PCSO Jon Mills said: "Suspicions were aroused when a van was spotted with a tank in the back and equipment used to remove fuel from tanks was discovered.

"The force helicopter was called in and a male was found hiding nearby where he had attempted to avoid the helicopter’s heat detecting equipment by hiding in a manure pile."

The suspect remains in custody while inquiries into the incident continue.