Key community contacts helped a Weston & Somerset Mercury reporter get to the bottom of an ugly row which culminated in a dead sheep being thrown into a school car park in front of a crowd of parents and children.
Mercury reporter Vicky Angear picked up the tale when a contact told her how councillor John Denbee, a local farmer, wanted compensation from Somerset County Council over a firework display at a school in Weare, a town in the paper’s patch.
It emerged that the fireworks display held at Weare First School had upset the sheep and one of them had fallen into a stream and drowned.
The enraged farmer, who claimed he had begged the school not to hold the event, then took the animal’s body to the school and threw it in front of a crowd of parents and children as they watched the fireworks.
Vicky phoned the school’s headmaster, who bizarrely related how he told shocked foreign visitors that sheep-throwing was a “Somerset tradition like cheese rolling” in an attempt to smooth things over.
Vicky said: “I was very excited about the new information because it made a much better story, but I needed Mr Denbee to confirm the details.
“I called him to confirm whether he had thrown the sheep. I was concerned he might not tell me, but I was able to use my good relationship with him to get him to open up and tell me what happened.”
The story featured on the front page of the paper, with the farmer quoted as saying he had thrown the sheep to make people aware of the danger fireworks pose to livestock.
He also claimed 20 of his ewes had lost unborn lambs due to the firework display, in addition to the sheep which had drowned. He later asked Somerset County Council for compensation.