Bang goes the neighbourhood

Former parish councillor Barry Hill

Former parish councillor Barry Hill

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The sight of grown men striding out across a field, boots and hats on, shotguns by their sides, is a familiar one.

And as shots are fired at pheasants flying overhead, people living nearby have become accustomed to the sound.

But the countryside pursuit, which takes place on land off Whinneyfield Lane in Woodplumpton, near Preston, has caused a bitter war of words which ended in court.

Opposed to the sport, former parish councillor Barry Hill took matters into his own hands while still a member of Woodplumpton and Catforth Parish Council.

He posted anti game-shooting leaflets through the doors of people involved in the shoot, including gamekeeper Ian Dobson.

Police were informed and Mr Hill, 52, was fined but refused to pay.

Instead, he was taken to court where he was found guilty of using threatening or abusive words or behaviour.

Landscape gardener Mr Hill, who lives with his partner Beverley Kirwan in Woodplumpton Road in the village, was given a six-month conditional discharge and ordered to pay £200 costs.

He says he doesn’t regret sending the material and says: “Personally, I’m against it full-stop but they’re not going to stop. They’re not breaking the law as far as I’m aware.”

John Troughton, 63, who takes part in the private shoots, received an animal rights leaflet in March, giving Mr Hill’s contact details for anyone interested in setting up an anti-shooting campaign.

The matter was referred to Preston Council because Mr Hill had used his councillor title when issuing the leaflets and his personal views. He was asked to write a letter of apology which he refused to do.

A few weeks later, Mr Troughton and gamekeeper Ian Dobson received another note saying: ‘Game shooting for pleasure takes place in Woodplumpton’ and personal abuse directed to the shooters. Again, it gave Hill’s name as a contact.

Ms Kirwan says her partner posted 300 leaflets, leading to three complaints, and says: “The council recommended that Barry apologise to these people who have made our lives a misery but, of course, he did not.

“He simply told them what he thought of them.”

Preston Council’s standards committee met again at the end of November and decided Mr Hill had breached the code of conduct.

The committee decided to ‘censure’ Mr Hill which means he would receive a notice of strong disapproval from the council.

Mr Hill, who stood down from the parish council at the May election, says he looked into the shooting after residents said they were worried about letting their pets out.

He says: “Lots of residents don’t use the paths and the area because of the shooting. There are lots of traps and snares. They have total disregard of the residents. They’re the lords of the manor, so to speak.

“They (the residents) won’t speak up. They speak to me but they tend to just keep their heads down.”

His partner, an Animal Aid supporter, adds: “Some people probably aren’t aware it’s going on.

“Quite often, I’ll be walking along the footpath and there’ll be a man stood in the field with a shotgun. I find it very intimidating. I don’t speak to them, I try not to look at them.

“You don’t want to meet people with guns on the path. Although it’s legal, I think the law’s an ass. It’s cruel and it’s violent. What about the ordinary people who want to observe the wildlife? Why haven’t we got any rights?”

Mr Troughton has previously described it as a “little family shoot” and says: “There’s no problem with it at all. It’s like a football match. We go shooting. It’s just our pastime.

“All right it’s killing birds but, if you’re a meat eater, you can’t object to it.”

He says Ms Kirwan often walks past while the shoots are taking place and adds: “Really, there isn’t an argument there, they’re making something that isn’t really a problem at all.

“There’s nobody else complaining about it.”

Julie Buttle, parish clerk at Woodplumpton Parish Council, says the matter was discussed at meetings due to concerns over it being close to a public right of way.

She says: “We got in touch with a public right of way officer. He e-mailed me lots of regulations and it was in accordance with all those regulations.”

She says the parish council had no powers to take any action in relation to Mr Hill’s concerns, which he has aired at meetings, and said Mr Hill took it upon himself to deliver the leaflets.

Mrs Buttle adds: “Some people will be against it, some people feel it’s perfectly acceptable as a countryside pursuit.

“I’ve not had anybody else contact me concerned about the shoot. There aren’t lots of people saying ‘why is this taking place’ or anything like that.”

Gamekeeper Mr Dobson and landowner Neil Leeming were unavailable for comment.