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Saturday, 20 December 2014

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Police probe after Cumbrian man's 'good deed' footpath work

Police are investigating after a 65-year-old man removed a section of fencing as he cleaned up a footpath.

Jim Higgins, from Whitehaven, cleared an area of overgrown vegetation, removed 130 metres of railings, and built a new bench near his home.

He took the action after claiming his dog had become impaled on a hidden spike on the fence, according to a national newspaper.

But the footpath belonged to charity Sustrans who reported the removal of the fencing to police.

The paper also claimed Mr Higgins could be in trouble over building the new bench as Sustrans had health and safety concerns about it. Mr Higgins, 65, was quizzed by police and fears he could now face criminal action, despite claiming he was just trying to clean the area up.

Sustrans says its staff were told the fence was missing and that spikes were left protruding as a result.

Eleanor Roaf, north west regional director, said: “We need to replace the fence because of the danger caused by the way it was removed, and the significant drop from the wall to the cycle way.”

The charity has installed temporary fencing and will be replacing it with a permanent fence costing up to £5,000.

Ms Roaf added: “We are very sorry to hear about the injury to Mr Higgins’ dog. As many people may be aware, metal theft is a serious problem in this country. We take theft from our land very seriously and do not want to spend charitable funds replacing stolen items.”

She also denied reports that Sustrans would be taking action over the homemade bench.

“We have no doubt the bench was made with the best of intentions, but we are concerned if it is robust enough for the number of people likely to sit on it, and the Cumbrian weather,” Ms Roaf explained.

“Of course we will leave the bench for now, but we will remove it when it becomes unsafe.”

Mr Higgins, who has six children and two young grandchildren, said he feared his “good deed” would end up with a criminal conviction.

“I’m finding it hard to sleep at night and am worried about the future,” he added.

Cumbria police said officers were investigating an allegation of property being removed.

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