A FARMER who traded a horse for fake designer goods escaped with a conditional discharge, after magistrates heard that the BSE crisis had left him virtually penniless.

A trading standards officer caught beef farmer Mark Berrow, 39, selling fake designer clothes and perfume alongside fruit and vegetables at his farm shop.

Believing the officer was a member of the public, Berrow sold him a fake Tommy Hilfiger fleece for £12.99, Southampton Magistrates' Court heard.

Andrew Slee, prosecuting for Hampshire County Council, said a team from trading standards returned to the shop at Holly Grove Farm, Upper Northam Road, West End.

They seized 199 items of clothing and 19 perfumes representing 15 trademarks.

Berrow told the officers he bought some of the clothes from a man at Bursledon car boot sale, and traded a horse worth £900 for the rest of the goods from a man called John at Southall Horse Market.

Maurice Jensen, defending, said: "When you get lessening of demand for your beef herd because of BSE you try and do something about it.

He was tempted - when someone offered him some clothes for a horse - to see if he could make any money out of them in the farm shop. Life is tough if you are a farmer and you are trying to earn a living."

He said that Berrow had told the officer immediately that the fleece was fake, and that large designer clothes manufacturers like Tommy Hilfiger and Kickers would "not be greatly injured by one farm shop in West End selling a couple of hundred items of clothing and bottles of perfume".

Berrow, who admitted at an earlier hearing to selling counterfeit goods and 16 charges of possession with a view to selling them, was given a conditional discharge and escaped paying costs. Ordering forfeiture of the goods, bench chairman John Montford said: "Be very careful. A horse in the hand is worth a lot more than counterfeit goods."