Having confronted travellers cutting down trees on her farm, terminally-ill Tracy St Clair Pearce found herself subjected to a terrifying ordeal.
Some of the group pelted her with rocks while a youth threatened to slit her throat and slaughter her cattle.
When she dialled 999 she expected the full weight of the law to be on her side.
Instead, however, police officers criticised her for inflaming the situation and confiscated her legally held shotguns–even though they had been locked away in a cabinet at home throughout the incident.
Yesterday, the 50-year-old accused police of causing her ‘harassment and distress’ when she should have been given protection.
‘I’ve been treated like a criminal,’ said Miss St Clair Pearce, who has been given months to live after breast cancer spread to her spine.
The incident blew up after around 18 caravans set up camp illegally in a field owned by Colchester Council last Thursday.
Miss St Clair Pearce, who lives on the adjoining Seven Saints Rare Breeds farm with her brother, Stuart, had a good-natured conversation with one traveller who assured her they would be no trouble and would move on within a couple of days.
But at 7pm on Good Friday she was spraying weeds on the 34-acre farm, where she has ten rare Shetland cattle and three horses, when she heard a chainsaw and found four boys felling trees for firewood.
‘I started shouting “Get out” but they just stood there in my field,’ she said. ‘I said I would spray them with the weed killer and one in a red T-shirt, who was about 14, went ballistic. The language coming out of his mouth was unbelievable.
‘I had a short-bladed knife in my hand for the weed removal and he took that as a challenge. He picked up a fence post and hurled it at me. He then screamed “I will slit your throat, I will slit the throats of your calves and cows”. We were face to face and he slid his finger across his throat.’
Miss St Clair Pearce stood her ground and the youth retreated across the brook that marks the border of her land but by this time several traveller men and a woman had come over.
One was the boy’s father, who used ‘sexually explicit language’ before turning away when asked if he was proud of his son. ‘About eight people were still there and they exposed themselves to me, front and back. Then they started throwing rocks at me so I backed off,’ added Miss St Clair Pearce.
Shaken by the confrontation, she called police and waited 35 minutes for a patrol car to arrive before spending three hours giving a statement. An inspector arrived at 11.30pm but questioned her own conduct, accusing her of making threats against the travellers. ‘They said I had been aggressive, the chainsaw was of no consequence, and I should have politely asked them to remove themselves from my premises then walked away and called 999,’ said Miss St Clair Pearce.
Officers eventually visited the camp that evening and the following morning but told her they were unable to find the teenager who had threatened her.
On Easter Monday she was at a dog show when she received a call from Colchester councillor Gerard Oxford, whom she had contacted for advice, and was told police wanted to confiscate her two shotguns.
She refused to start the two-hour journey home immediately and officers began turning up at the farmhouse ‘every couple of hours’ in an attempt to seize the legally held shotguns.
At 3.15am yesterday armed officers appeared and demanded the firearms otherwise they would ‘pull the cabinet from the wall’.
Left with no choice, Miss St Clair Pearce told her brother where she kept the key and he handed the weapons over.
Officers returned later yesterday and confiscated her gun licence to ‘prevent me buying another shotgun’.
Her brother said: ‘I am in shock. I thought the laws in this country protected people who live and work in their communities–not those who visit for a short time and think they are beyond the law.’
The travellers refused to comment when approached yesterday.
Mr Oxford said: ‘The way Tracy has been treated has been quite appalling. It was quite evident the officers were putting more weight on making sure that the travellers were ok than the threats which had been made to Tracy’s life.’
Essex police confirmed they had not yet arrested anyone in connection with the incident.
A spokesman said: ‘Officers became concerned at the behaviour of a woman and laid information before magistrates accordingly.
‘They were given powers to seize guns in her possession and have done so as a sensible precaution in the circumstances.’
Tracy St Clair Pearce.
About 18 caravans set up camp illegally in a field neighboring Miss St. Clair Pearce’s farm.