A PENSIONER says he’ll risk jail after ‘squatter’ badgers have got him in hot water in a duspute over new fencing.

Thomas Hedaux, 83, from Pitsea, says he was questioned under caution by the RSPCA and Essex Badger Protection Group after trying to replace a fence in his property in Southwold Crescent, Benfleet.

He said: “My ex wife lives in the property and we own it together. I called a fencing firm and arranged for the works to be done and was told it’ll cost £2,300.

“They’re planning to install gravel boards below the ground, on the ground level and fencing. This is what was there before.

“Someone reported me to the RSPCA and the protection group for disturbing the sett, but we didn’t do this.

“I was amazed when the authorities came and questioned me and I was told the work had to stop. I’m waiting for a permit from Government department Natural England to continue the works.

“The authorities were very heavy handed, unfair and unreasonable.

“They told me I could face a £5,000 fine and prison, but I’m willing to go to prison.

“I think it’s ridiculous.”

“My ex wife keeps bursting into tears and can’t look at the garden as it’s such a mess.”

A Natural England spokesman said: “Badgers and their setts are protected by law and any actions which would harm them is carefully considered and only permitted with a licence.

“Badger setts should not be disturbed unless all of the necessary licences have been obtained.”

Chris Teeder, 56, chairman of the Essex Badger Protection Group said: “Neither the RSPCA or our team were heavy handed.

“There must be a permit agreed for these works but we made other suggestions.

“We must ensure no harm comes to the badgers.”

An RSPCA spokesman said: “We cannot comment about this specific incident however, badgers and their setts are protected by law.

“If anyone is looking to carry out work around a badger sett they need to speak to Natural England, which is the body which issues licences.”