A WATERWAYS “pirate” who hijacked a narrow boat and then botched up his bid to disguise it was jailed for eight months today.

Bernard Smith caused £15,000 worth of damage in his efforts to repaint the vessel 'Cushie Butterfield and change its interior after sailing it away from its moorings in Sharpness.

Gloucester Crown Court heard that the boat's owner, Arthur Best, got that sinking feeling when he went to check on the vessel on August 24 last year and realised it had gone from its moorings.

He had last been out in its three weeks earlier and had left it safely moored.

After discovering the theft he searched the length of the Gloucester and Sharpness canal and found it moored ten miles away at Simms Bridge in Quedgeley.

Prosecutor Julian Kesner said Mr Best was shocked by the amount of damage done to the Cushie Butterfield in an attempt to disguise its identity.

The paintwork had been ruined, the rear door no longer fitted properly and inside a varnished table was also wrecked.

Sixty plaques and 'awards' collected by Mr Best from many of the locations he had visited with the boat had gone.

The boat was no longer water tight because of the damage done.

Jobless Smith, of Byron Avenue, Podsmead in Gloucester, pleaded guilty to stealing the boat, owned by Mr Best of Parkend Bridge, Castle Lane, Saul, between 1-25 August last year.

Judge Euan Ambrose sentenced him to eight months immediate imprisonment.

"You made crude attempts to disguise it, causing further damage to it," said the judge.

"Taken from within the boat were sixty plaques or awards which are described as irreplaceable.

"Narrow boats are very often peoples' homes with all the sentimental attachments that that brings. I accept this was not someone's home but it was used recreationally. The sentimental attachment that the owner feels for the boat makes this more serious than the theft of a motor vehicle."

Mr Kesner had told the court that Smith was caught because he had left a cigarette onboard the boat and his DNA was found on it.

When arrested Smith claimed he had bought the boat in good faith from someone whose contact details he did not have - but he no longer persisted in that claim, said Mr Kesner.

Smith had also claimed that he was making improvements to the boat, not attempting to avoid its detection.

A specialist in Solihull had estimated the costs of repair and restoration at £15,000, Mr Kesner added.

He said Smith had made seventeen previous court appearances for offences including burglary, violence and possession of drugs.

Paul Trotman, defending, said Smith still maintained that the work he did to the boat was intended to improve it.

He also questioned the £15,000 damage estimate, describing it as 'extraordinary.'

Mr Trotman urged the court to pass a community order or suspended sentence.