Shepherd 'used flock to intimidate neighbours'

A "maverick" shepherd who deployed his wayward sheep to intimidate his neighbours received a suspended prison sentence today for breaching an Asbo which banned the flock from the village.

Jeremy Awdry, 60, was deprived of his ancient right to graze sheep in Bream, in the Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire, after they were reported straying into gardens and damaging fences.

The 500-strong flock was "used as a means of intimidating or causing difficulty for people he had reason to fall out with", prosecutor Brendon Moorhouse told Gloucester Crown Court.

Awdry, who lives just outside the zone subjected to the order, previously pleaded guilty to five counts of breaching the five-year Asbo between January and July 2008.

Judge William Hart sentenced Awdry to 16 weeks in prison, suspended for 18 months, and imposed a curfew order between the hours of 10pm and 4.30am for the next two months.

Awdry is a "sheep badger" - someone who has the right by birth to graze sheep anywhere in the Forest.

For 500 years Forest of Dean-born commoners have been able to let their livestock graze freely, but in recent times the district and parish councils have received complaints relating to sheep mess, property damaged and the animals becoming a highway hazard.

Before he pleaded guilty Awdry was due to stand trial on 21 counts of breaching the order, made after more than 40 complaints were submitted to Gloucestershire police.

Explaining the different scenarios which led to Awdry receiving the Asbo, Mr Moorhouse told the court he had been in dispute with several villagers for nearly a decade.

He said: "There were situations where sheep were driven and put in places where they would cause trouble for people. Sheep were found lying outside houses dead with their name written in red on them. These sort of matters led to the Asbo being made."

Two of the breaches Awdry admitted related to an interim order imposed in January 2008, and the subsequent three breaches related to the formal order made in March.

Mr Moorhouse said all the breaches involved roaming sheep being spotted outside residents' properties, grazing and bleating.

The order prohibited Awdry from threatening, or engaging in any conduct likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress to residents of Bream and Forest of Dean District Council staff.

It also banned him from intimidating or communicating with certain named individuals and prevented him from allowing sheep under his ownership or control to enter a 'designated settlement area'.

Defending, Giles Nelson said Awdry, a milkman by trade, plans to retire at the end of the month.

He said: "There are a number of people in the community who have a lot of admiration for him. He is a forceful character, a strong character, he speaks his mind and some people have difficulty with that. But many people respect him.

"There's no suggestion he has been in any way threatening or violent in the course of the allegations we are concerned with today.

"The concept of a sheep being used as a means to intimidate people in one view is laughable. In the five incidents we are concerned with there's no evidence that people were intimidated by the sheep."

Mr Nelson said his client had "suffered a great deal" in his own mind.

"He has found the comings and going to court stressful. He is not in the best health."

Sentencing Awdry, Judge Hart quoted a reference from Awdry's friend, Judith Kershaw.

"It may well be that Judith Kershaw's reference to you as a maverick, but with another side to the whole story, hits the nail on the head," he said.

He went on: "For many years a significant number of residents in your community claim your conduct has made their lives a misery, and it may well be their complaints are justified.

"A rural community needs people to be considerate to each other to make it work, it needs a degree of give and take. In your community that has been lacking."

Judge Hart said rural communities had changed in the last 50 years and were now comprised of "many people from many backgrounds with many views".

"The fact of the matter is unless you learn a lesson from these proceedings, there will be more and more trouble and you're going to have to mend your ways," he said.

Other "ancient rights" in the Forest of Dean include the right of small farmers to graze their pigs on local acorns in the autumn months.

Anyone born within the Hundred of St Briavels, an historic administrative area of the Forest, and who has worked in a mine for a year and a day, may open up a personal plot and call himself a Freeminer.