A POLICE investigation has been launched into claims that up to 700 pheasants died after being taken from a woodland habitat and placed in a huge pen on the Corby Castle estate of Dr Edward Haughey.
It is believed that the pheasants, reared for used in highly lucrative shoots on the millionaire businessman’s estate perished after they started attacking and eating each other.
The RSPCA attempted to gain access but because it was only allowed onto the estate under certain conditions, it decided to pass the matter to the police, who are now investigating the allegations.
The matter was also raised at a Wetheral Parish Council meeting last week. Councillors were told work had stopped on four pheasant houses after planners decided permission was needed, although one pen is already complete.
The council minutes say: “Approximately 600-700 birds have died due to the birds pecking each other. The RSPCA were refused entry to the estate and trading standards arrived after the birds had been moved.
“There is photographic and video evidence of the alleged situation. The parish council was informed the gamekeeper has left the estate employment and other staff members are looking after the birds.”
Pictures obtained by The Cumberland News show gruesome scenes of birds pecking at each other until they are too weak to move and die.
A source, who witnessed the pheasants dying on the 1,000-acre estate, said: “They normally live in smaller pens in the woods which don’t have a roof on so they can get away from each other.
“But around 3,500 of them were placed in this large roofed pen and they began attacking each other. Tail feathers were ripped out and once bare skin appeared it was pecked at until the birds died.
“The birds were in there for 10 days at the end of July and more than 600 died. The surviving birds were put back in the woods.
“These birds are wild but they were placed in an environment more suitable for battery hens. It was never going to work.
“The shoots on the estate are extremely lucrative and the plan was to expand the business so more shoots can take place. We believe the gamekeeper resigned in protest after the birds died.”
Dr Haughey, 59, made his fortune in veterinary drugs and is one of the richest men in the country with a reported wealth of £300million. He also owns Carlisle Airport.
A vet from the Carlisle area also witnessed the alleged cruelty on the Corby Castle estate.
In a letter obtained by The Cumberland News, the vet from the Paragon Veterinary Group at Dalston said: “My comments are based on observations made from a distance. I did however observe a pen containing several thousand pheasants of around 10-12 weeks of age.
“As a group, the birds appeared in poor condition and it was noticeable that many of the birds had no tail feathers and showed signs consistent with mutilation and cannibalism by other birds.”
A retrospective planning application has now been submitted to Carlisle City Council for four 80ft by 60ft buildings which would each house 5,000 pheasants.
Chris Towler, an RSPCA officer in Cumbria, said a prosecution could still be brought even though there was now no sign of any dead birds.
A Cumbria Police spokesman added: “In conjunction with the RSPCA we are investigating allegations of animal cruelty.”
The Cumberland News made several attempts to contact Dr Haughey but his personal assistant said he was unavailable for comment.
Lord Ballyedmond later dropped a libel action against The Cumberland News over the article describing the conditions pheasants were kept in on the 1,000-acre Corby estate.