A RYEDALE couple have suffered abuse and vandalism and seen their businesses suffer after being mistaken for a farmer convicted of neglecting animals.

Phil and Carol Cockerill, of Ashgrove Farm near Pickering, have had their home pelted with eggs, received hate mail, been confronted in the street and seen trade for their dog breeding and farming businesses plummet after animal rights activists mistook them for a Rosedale man convicted of keeping cattle in “hazardous conditions”.

Andrew Cockerill, of Pickering, keeps cattle at The Grazings, Rosedale Abbey. He pleaded guilty to seven offences of breaching animal health and welfare legislation in May, and was given a suspended prison sentence.

Phil and Carol run businesses trading as Cockerills of Pickering and UK Drilling. They have no connections to the other man.

About three weeks ago they became aware they were being targeted by attacks but had no idea why.

Phil said: “We saw that eggs had been thrown at the farm sign. We hadn’t a clue what was behind it. We just put it down to kids.”

Shortly after they received anonymous letters saying “you should be strung up for this”, but still did not know what was behind the abuse.

Carol, who is a licenced dog breeder, even faced abuse in the street when she was out shopping in Pickering, and the couple received prank phone calls.

It was only when a Ryedale dog warden, who knows Carol through her voluntary work with the Cats Protection League, made the connection between the prosecution and the Cockerill name and pointed this out to the couple, that the penny dropped.

When he realised what was behind the attacks, Phil contacted North Yorkshire County Council, who pursued the prosecution of Andrew Cockerill, to clear up the confusion.

The county council has removed references to the prosecution from its website, and has issued a statement saying: “North Yorkshire County Council would like to make it plain that a prosecution over animal welfare legislation which resulted in May in the conviction of livestock keeper Andrew Cockerill of Pickering, who keeps cattle at The Grazings, Rosedale Abbey, was not connected in any way with the business trading as Cockerills, UK Drilling, at Ashgrove Farm, Marton Lane, Pickering.”

But Phil and Carol said they still worry about the their businesses.

“It could ruin us. It takes years to build up a business and a reputation, but you can come down much more quickly,” Phil said.

Carol has been trading as a licenced dog breeder for about six years, and takes pride in the fact her animals are treated properly, vet checked, microchipped and covered by pet insurance, he added.

“It’s all done properly. Carol’s lost half her business lately, and we don’t know whether that is a general trend or related to this.”