Activists target 'rabbit flu' family

ANIMAL rights activists have targeted the parents of Britain's first known human victim of 'rabbit flu' with telephone callers telling them his death was a 'rabbit's revenge'.

ANIMAL rights activists have targeted the parents of Britain's first known human victim of "rabbit flu", with telephone callers telling them his death was a "rabbit's revenge''.

John Freeman, 29, died after becoming infected with the bacteria pasteurella multocida after picking up a rabbit on his farm.

He fell ill the next day with a fever and died three days later.

His parents Joan and Peter Freeman, who farm at Aspall, near Stowmarket in Suffolk, spoke out following their son's death to appeal for greater awareness of the bacterium that caused his death.

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But the couple were horrified when anti-hunting extremists telephoned them within days of their son's funeral and implied their son deserved to die.

Mrs Freeman said that on the day they spoke out, extremists had telephoned to tell her that the couple's only child had been "popping off rabbits for fun''.

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In a separate call, Mr Freeman was told that the death might be "rabbit's revenge''.

The couple went to a relative's house to escape the ringing telephone.

“They were implying that my son deserved to die,” Mrs Freeman said. “I just can't understand how people can be so callous. To ring someone up who is devastated with grief - it is disgusting.”

John Freeman's parents said their son had been a conservationist.

Mrs Freeman said: “I can't believe these people are caring, or nature lovers or conservationists themselves. If they were, they would know that rabbit culling is a part of country life.”

Mr Freeman said: “We are just ordinary people who want to live our lives quietly.

“The only reason we have accepted publicity is so that others can be aware this disease exists. We expect (opposition) from people who are anti-hunting. They have their views and we have ours. But this is sick. We have got more than enough to contend with, losing John.''

A post-mortem showed that Mr Freeman had died from septicaemia after becoming infected with the bacteria that causes pasteurellosis, which is known as rabbit flu or snuffles.

A spokesman for the Health Protection Agency said the bacteria was known to be common among many domestic animals, including cats and dogs, but he was not aware of any other fatal rabbit-to-human transmission.

Mrs Freeman said she believed the bacteria passed into her son's blood stream via a blister he had on his thumb. Mr Freeman died on August 5 - four days after falling ill.

The League Against Cruel Sports has described the telephone calls as "completely unacceptable''.

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