Alert farmers foiled an audacious bid to steal a £70,000 John Deere tractor after a conman faked a heart attack while another tried to hijack the vehicle.

Tractor driver Alex Digby was delivering hay bales when a stranger suddenly staggered in front of him clutching his chest.

The man appeared to be having a heart attack and Mr Digby slowed down the tractor believing the man could be in serious trouble.

But as the John Deere R6140 tractor slowed, a second man sprang from the hedge and jumped on the stairs of the tractor.

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Before the man could get his hand on the door handle of the cab, Mr Digby quickly slammed the tractor into gear and sped off.

His quick-thinking actions knocked the assailant off balance and he fell back into a ditch as the tractor drove off.

The incident happened shortly after 9.30pm on Sunday (27 July) in Manor House Lane, in Higher Heath, Whitchurch, Shropshire.

The men are both described as being in their late 30s or early 40s, of large build, and wearing jeans. One wore an orange or red top while the other had a brown top on.

Although West Mercia Police said the incident was isolated they have warned farmers to be on their guard against similar tractor-jacking attempts.

Mr Digby’s manager, Nigel Vickers, of Mulsford Farm, said his staff had been left shaken by the incident, which he described as “unbelievable”.

“My team had been running up and down this lane all day long delivering hay bales, which had obviously given the perpetrators the chance to watch and wait for them,” he said.

“It’s very difficult to know what to do, because a tractor driver cannot actually lock himself in the cab like you can in a car.”
Nigel Vickers, Mulsford Farm

“There were three lads running through this lane with loads of straw. First, my son Stuart noticed this man lying by the side of the road. He kept going because he thought it was a drunk or someone on drugs.

“The next lad that came behind him, Alex, said the man stumbled across the road holding his chest. As he slowed up, another man sprang out of the hedge on the near side.

“He was climbing up the steps and trying to get the door open. Luckily the tractor was rolling slightly and he couldn’t get his balance.

“He got his hand on the door handle, but Alex spotted him, put the tractor into gear and drove away.”

Mr Vickers said police officers told him thieves were now trying to steal tractors with the keys in the ignition due to microchipping technology. “Without the key, the tractor is no good to them,” he added.

He said it was a sad state of affairs when you be a good samaritan and stop and help someone who appears to be ill.

“Maybe the best course of action is to phone the emergency services. That’s what it has come to,” he added.

Mr Vickers has taken steps to avoid a similar incident by ensuring that tractors are not left on their own, loads are travelling together and tractor drivers are not left on their own in a vehicle.

“It’s very difficult to know what to do, because a tractor driver cannot actually lock himself in the cab like you can in a car,” he said.

A spokesman for West Mercia Police said: “The attempted tractor theft in Higher Heath was reported to us at about 10pm on Sunday (27 July).

“Police attended and carried out a search of the area, but there was no trace of the offenders.”

A spokesman for the force’s rural watch team added: “Plant theft is not a significant local concern.”

Anyone with information is urged to contact police on 101 or call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.