CALLOUS criminals have shot dead 18 birds at a village allotment in two nights of airgun attacks.
Heartbroken Dorothy Neave has kept hens at her Widdrington Station allotment for the past 12 years, giving their eggs to friends and neighbours.
In recent months the birds have helped her through her grief for her husband Alistair, who died in December at the age of 64.
But on Monday Mrs Neave was devastated to find that 14 hens and a duck had been killed through the night, while another hen and duck were injured.
However, the gruesome discovery was not to be the last and on Tuesday she found that another three hens had been shot dead and another duck was missing.
She said: “It was just a complete shock when I went to feed them on Monday morning. They were lying all over the allotment. It was terrible to see.
“Two had survived, one with a pellet in its back and the other had been shot under the wing. We have got them in a pen now and are hoping to revive them.
“They are starting to drink, but they aren’t eating anything yet. They must really have had a big shock. I’ve had hens ever since I got the allotment 12 years ago, that’s the reason I got it. I bought new hens last year and they would just have been coming on to full lay.”
However, the biggest loss for the 63-year-old is her pet duck Quackers, who was a familiar sight in the village as Mrs Neave often took her for a walk.
“I have always loved ducks and we used to keep Quackers in the house. We had to take her up to the allotment because a dog got hold of her once, but she survived and she was quite old, four or five. I used to take her for a walk along the street when I had her at home so everyone knew her,” she said.
It is not the first time that Mrs Neave’s birds have been targeted at the Margaret Street allotment, which she shares with her sister Freda, as two years ago there was a spate of attacks in which her hens were killed.
Extra security measures were installed to prevent people getting into the allotment, but it is thought the latest offenders climbed onto a fence in the back garden of a house to fire an air weapon at the birds.
“It was about two years ago when some mindless kids were using the hens as a football. It would happen one night and then a couple of nights later there were some more and so on. At the finish we put anti-climbing stuff up to stop them getting into the allotment,” said Mrs Neave.
“Everything was smashing and then some stupid person has come along with an air gun and is using the birds as target practice. After the first time they even had the audacity to come back and kill another three.
“I have still got six ducks left and my sister has her hens because no one can get access to hers, but we are dreading going up to the allotments to see them and then we don’t want to leave them.
“Looking after them all has been helping me to get over the death of my husband, who passed away just before Christmas. He used to go and get the corn for the hens for me. He would complain that I fed them too much, but he always enjoyed their eggs.
“Being with the birds just helped to take my mind off him being taken away from me so quickly.”
The Margaret Street resident had considered giving up her allotment in the immediate aftermath of the attacks, but now she is determined not to be driven out.
“I was thinking of packing the whole thing up, but the policeman said ‘don’t let them win’ and I won’t,” she said.
“I’m going to wait until there is some more protection put up and then I’ll be buying more hens. I will fight to the bitter end.
“I just think the people who did this are mindless, cruel people and they should be brought to justice. They must have known what they were doing, but they obviously have no feeling whatsoever to go back and do it a second time without any remorse.”
The first incident happened sometime between 8pm on Sunday and 7.50am the following morning, with the second attack taking place in the early hours of Tuesday morning.
Morpeth Acting Inspector Dave Simpson said: “This is an extremely cruel and distressing incident where whoever is responsible has gone to quite an effort to climb onto the garden fence and specifically aim and shoot at the birds.
“We believe they were all shot by an air weapon and I’d appeal for anyone who lives in the Margaret Street area, or who may have been in the area on Monday or Tuesday night, and may have seen anyone carrying an air weapon or acting suspiciously to get in touch as soon as possible.”