Cats at risk after legal confusion

DOZENS of cats could be put down because of a legal mix-up by a unique Suffolk sanctuary.The trustees of Suffolk Animal Rescue could be sued for thousands of pounds after failing to make repairs at the shop they ran at Queens Way.

DOZENS of cats could be put down because of a legal mix-up by a unique Suffolk sanctuary.

The trustees of Suffolk Animal Rescue could be sued for thousands of pounds after failing to make repairs at the shop they ran at Queens Way.

They had not realised they were legally responsible for repairs at the building when they took on the lease – and now they could be sued for up to £12,000.

Trustee Jayne Roberts said: "I dread to think what would happen to the cats without us.

"They are rescued wild cats and no other animal charity will take them. The idea of all 60 of them being put down is too much to bear."

The trustees of the only charity in the area to care for feral cats have been hit after being forced to pull out of the shop after it regularly came under attack from vandals.

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New landlord Steve Gulyas said he has "bent over backwards" to help the animal lovers, even offering to settle out of court for £5,000.

He said: "It's a strict liability issue. The trustees didn't realise what they were liable for when they signed the lease. This is not my fault and they have my sympathy.

"I am a fair person and I don't want to take these people to court but they should have been aware of the lease commitments. I am not a charity and have to honour my own debts."

Both he and former landlord Jeremy Goddard had acted totally within the law, he added.

Trouble began for the cat lovers last year when a series of attacks on their charity shop in Queens Way, including one arson attack, left staff too scared to renew their lease.

Mrs Roberts, currently running the charity from her Debenham home, described the attacks. She said: "It was terrible, all the shops in the area were subjected to vandalism.

"Our windows were boarded up and, after the fire, we decided we couldn't sign up for another three years."

Staff, fearful for their safety, decided not to renew their lease but to rent the property on a monthly basis from Ipswich estate agents Goddard & Co.

But the property was sold in November to Mr Gulyas, who decided to reclaim money owed for repairs.

Mr Roberts admits the trustees acted naively, but defended their actions.

She said: "We are cat lovers not legal experts."

Mrs Roberts started Suffolk Animal Rescue with fellow trustees Lesley Horsley and Lynn Zagni in 1997 after becoming disillusioned with national animal charities.

Mrs Roberts said: "They kept telling us what we could or couldn't do. We didn't have any control.

"We weren't supposed to take on feral cats or stray dogs because they said they weren't cuddly enough and would be impossible to find homes for."

Mrs Roberts, from Cherry Tree Lane, in Debenham, owns six feral cats which – like the others at the refuge – were collected from farms where they would otherwise have been shot.

She believes the "ex-wildies" make excellent pets.

She said: "They spend the first 12 months hiding behind the washing machine then they totally reverse their characters."

Rather than being out of control, the former wild cats lap up luxury and even refuse to go out in the wet, she added.

Jeremy Goddard said: "I sold the property a year ago. I have no comment to make on the current situation."

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