A LOCAL farmer who awoke to carnage following an attack on his sheep by two pet dogs, is criticising a legal system which does not allow for immediate disposal of the canine assassins.

Ian Robertson of Chawton Park Farm has described the scene which greeted him at Beech as Òlike a battle fieldÓ.

ÒI have never seen anything like it. I could not believe the carnage - all around the outskirts of the 20-acre field there were sheep lying with their throats ripped open. It made my stomach turn.Ó

Mr Robertson is angry because, although the police will prosecute owners who allow their dogs to attack sheep, by law following the incident they have to return the animals to their owners and it can be up to six months before the case comes to court.

ÒDuring that time, given the opportunity, the animals will almost certainly kill again,Ó said Mr Robertson whose nightmare discovery was made early on Thursday, September 4, following a call by a Beech man out walking in Chawton Park Woods.

According to the farmer, the man had seen the dogs in with the sheep and realised they were up to no good. Furthermore, having rung Mr Robertson, he had waded in and caught the offending canines and locked them in a shed. ÒHe was either mad or exceptionally brave - whatever, I am grateful to him,Ó said the Alton farmer.

Mr Robertson himself never saw the dogs. Having arrived on the scene with a vet he spent the next few hours tending the injured and dying.

The field, which Mr Robertson leases from Old Park Farm at Beech, was full of 15-month-old ewes who had recently lambed. Three of them were dead, 10 had to be put down, and another 24 were badly injured and required veterinary treatment.

In all, taking into account veterinary fees, the financial damage came to around £5,000 - but that, pointed out the farmer, does not reflect the trauma inflicted on the rest of the flock.

ÒHad it not been stopped an incident like this could have put me out of business,Ó he said.

In the meantime, the dogs were returned by the police to their owners who are said to have lived a good mile from the scene, through the woods.

Attacks by foxes and badgers are a seasonal hazard at lambing time and Mr Robertson, like all other farmers, loses a few lambs to predators, but badgers at least will eat their prey. The dogs did not.

Instead they caused havoc, slaughtering indiscriminately and leaving a trail of destruction.

It is a scene never before witnessed by Mr Robertson who has been at Chawton Park Farm since 1982 and has a 3,000 strong flock of home-bred Llyns.

ÒI want to make people aware that, given the opportunity, dogs will kill sheep. People have to take responsibility and control their dogs who should be kept on a lead if around livestock.

ÒOnce dogs get the taste for killing you canÕt stop them - thatÕs why farmers have the right to shoot them if they are seen worrying farm animals.Ó

The other issue Mr Robertson has is with a legal system which, he believes, should allow dogs who have attacked livestock to be destroyed rather than returned to their owners. Anything else he views as negligence.

Commenting on the incident, Alton Inspector Tony Tipping said he could understand Mr RobertsonÕs immediate desire to secure the safety of his stock, but the police had to act within the law.

ÒWe do take sheep worrying seriously, we do respond promptly to calls and provided we have the evidence and the support of the livestock owner we will prosecute,Ó said Insp Tipping.

He was keen to reinforce the warning to dog owners that if their animals worry or savage sheep they will be at risk of being destroyed. Furthermore, if it becomes a perpetual problem - and that means more than once, the owners themselves could be liable to more serious charges of criminal damage.

l Following the attack, Mr Robertson says he has been in contact with the owners of the two dogs which are thought to have escaped when their pen was inadvertently left open.

The matter has been discussed and Mr Robertson says he will not be pursuing it through the courts since the owners have agreed to have the dogs put down.