Farmer faces jail for plunging vet into slurry pit

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The Independent Online

A farmer who forced an animal health inspector and a woman vet into a slurry pit is facing jail after being found guilty yesterday of affray.

Roger Baker, 61, who has convictions for animal cruelty spanning 30 years, attacked Jonathan McCulloch, a trading standards officer, and Susan Potter, a government vet, on his land at Ventongimps, near Truro, last year, Taunton Crown Court was told. The jury failed to reach a majority verdict on a second charge of making a threat to kill and the charge was left to lie on file.

The court was told that Mr McCulloch, who works for Cornwall County Council, and Mrs Potter visited the farm on 25 February last year to investigate suspicions that animals were being maltreated.

Baker, a sheep trader, came "out of nowhere", running at full speed to attack the two officials. He grabbed 28-year-old Mr McCulloch, dragged him across the yard and tried to dunk him in a putrid pool of mud, dung and urine. Mr McCulloch shouted for help and Mrs Potter, aged 47, who was filming conditions on the farm with a video camera, went to help her colleague.

But Baker grabbed her by the neck, pulled her to the ground and dragged her into the mire. With one hand on her face, he pushed her into the slurry so hard she was forced to hold her breath. It was also claimed that Baker shouted to Mr McCulloch: "I will f***ing kill you as well." The inspector and the vet escaped after Mrs Potter hit the irate farmer over the head with the camera.

Mrs Potter, a vet working for the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, told the court she had endured a campaign of abuse and intimidation at the hands of Baker for years. On one occasion, Baker threatened her while brandishing a pitchfork, and had to be restrained by police. In a separate incident, he hurled a log at her; another time he threw a dead sheep at her and other visiting officials.

In 1999 he was jailed for five and a half months for abusing dozens of animals and was banned for life from keeping livestock. At the time, an RSPCA spokesman described him as the "most consistently cruel person" the organisation had dealt with.

Judge O'Malley told Baker's barrister: "He has been sentenced to imprisonment twice and it hasn't resulted in improvements. The details and overall position will impinge on my mind when deciding whether or how long he is going to spend in prison." Addressing Baker directly as he released him on bail, the judge said: "I warn you it will be a sentence of imprisonment."

Mrs Potter said after the case: "I am very pleased that the verdict has been reached. We do an important job. Safeguarding livestock on farms can be stressful - the last few days have been quite an ordeal for me and I am glad it is over. I am still very dedicated to animal welfare and will keep doing my job."