VANDALS broke into a building site, stole a £50,000 digger and used it to demolish two cottages.

Contractors working on the Front Garden development near Swindon found the 28-tonne piece of construction machinery parked on top of a mountain of rubble that used to be two farm cottages.

The 360-degree excavator was stolen from the building site, where 3,000 new homes are being built, and used to crush the cottages in Mill Lane.

Trees around the properties, which were vacant and due to be demolished as part of the construction work, had also been snapped like twigs by the machine.

One of the falling trees is thought to have ripped up power lines, alerting the electricity board to the crime.

Workers at the site said the excavator could only have been driven by someone who knew how to use it.

One worker said: "Whoever did it knew what they were doing.

"This is what the machine is built for, so it would probably only take a few swipes, but they must have had some idea how to drive it not to end up with all the rubble landing on top of them.

"They are not very easy things to manoeuvre if you don't know what you are doing.

"The digger wasn't broken into, so they would have needed a key to do it.

"This rubble was two cottages and a conservatory. It was quite a nice place to look at and I wouldn't have minded living there myself.

"It was going to be knocked down as part of the work, so if anything they have made our work a bit easier."

Police spokesman Martin Dunscombe said: "Officers were called out at 7.20am on Friday to reports from someone who had come into work and found an excavator had been used to flatten a farm house.

"They brought down electricity cables as well.

"The electricity board had been called out at about 11pm on Thursday to sort out the problem.

"An investigation into criminal damage and taking a vehicle without consent has been launched."

David Evans from Taylor Wimpey, developers for the Wichelstowe project, said: "We can confirm that the West Leaze cottages, which were empty and due for demolition next year, were illegally destroyed by vandals yesterday evening.

"The police have been notified and are investigating.

"If anyone saw any activity in the area on Thursday night we would ask that they contact the police."

Anyone with any information on the destruction of the cottages should contact Wiltshire police on 0845 408 7000.