Monks staring at woman 'creepily' in effort to force her off their land, business owner claims

Benedictine monastery accused of campaign of 'psychological warfare'

Thursday 26 September 2019 15:47
Woman alleged monks are staring at woman 'creepily' to drive her off rented land

The owner of a Gloucestershire wildlife park has alleged to police that a brotherhood of monks are trying to drive her out of her business through a campaign of "psychological warfare".

Melanie Meigh claimed members of a Roman Catholic Benedictine order have been staring at her "creepily" to force her off rented land within the 300-acre grounds of their monastery in the Cotswolds.

The 58-year-old photographed one of the Prinknash Abbey monks as he allegedly stared at her for more than 30 minutes in what she claimed was an attempt to intimidate her.

Ms Meigh has clashed with the monks on several occasions after taking over the Prinknash Bird and Deer Park, which is on land first leased from monastery in 1978.

They first locked horns in 2016 when she tried to stop the brotherhood's £3.5m plans to build luxury homes on the car park used by her visitors.

The monks later objected to her expansion proposals - telling planners the wildlife area was becoming “a theme park incompatible with a working monastery”.

Plans to host Halloween parties for young visitors at the park also raised the ire of the monks, who likened the events to pagan celebrations.

Ms Meigh took over the business after her father's death in 2008 and has since ploughed £1m into upgrades to the park, which is visited by 40,000 people a year.

Her landlords cannot force her to leave because she has protected tenancy status under the 1977 Rent Act.

Ms Meigh said the tensions with the monks ramped up to a new level when the monk stood staring at her from monastery land late last month.

She said: “I felt genuinely threatened by his creepy behaviour. It was very uncomfortable. He just stood there watching me when I was in the middle of nowhere. When I asked him to leave he refused saying he was on their property not mine, so he had obviously thought it through."

She added: "It was very unpleasant and I found the whole thing quite upsetting."

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She said the monk made some of her visitors feel “unsettled”, prompting her to take a picture and show it to staff at Stroud police station. She told officers the monks had been “resorting to psychological warfare tactics”.

A spokesperson for Gloucestershire Police confirmed an officer visited the abbey after the complaint but would not give details about what was discussed.

They added: “We can confirm that no formal complaint has been lodged in respect of this incident therefore there is no police investigation."

A spokesperson for the monastery's trustees said: “Prinknash Abbey is aware of the allegations made by Melanie Meigh that have been reported in the press. However, as there is an ongoing dispute with Ms Meigh, which is currently the subject of court proceedings, it would not be appropriate for the Abbey to comment at this time.”

The three-year dispute between Ms Meigh and the abbey will be heard by the Competition Appeal Tribunal this summer.

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