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2 stray horses have been shot in a country park near Watford after the council branded them “an immediate danger” to the public.

Police were called to Leavesden Country Park, Herts, on 4 March following reports of loose horses. The Three Rivers District Council said that the police worked with council representatives for 4 hours trying to catch the horses — in vain. Finally they made the decision to shoot the pair, which was carried out by an officer on a quad bike.

Rebecca Emmett, the council’s head of regulatory services, said that this was done “very reluctantly and in the interests of public safety”.

The horses were “galloping unsupervised”. The council said they “had made efforts to locate owners for the horses, but no one has come forward”. One horse was microchipped, but the chip was not registered against an owner’s name. The second horse was not microchipped.

“They were an immediate danger to dog walkers and children in the park and were at risk of straying on to [roads],” Ms Emmett said. “[They were put down] quickly and humanely under careful supervision.”

The council said that they were assisted by an animal welfare agency, whose representatives were on hand before the horses were shot. However, the council told H&H that they will not disclose the agency’s identity. The usual port of call, the RSPCA, confirmed that no one at the organisation was contacted.

If the horses had been captured, they would have been held for 14 days before a decision would be made to euthanase.

There has been local uproar. One man said that the authorities “didn’t know what they were doing — it was wicked”. A riding centre manager said he was surprised that “no one asked for professional help”.

Campaign organisation Voices Against Neglect and Abuse of All Horses (Vanah) said that the actions of the council were “unforgivable” and asked if “this is the start of things to come against horses found loose”.

“Vanah is sickened to report this shooting of two innocent horses, guilty of wandering into a country park which is over 110 acres,” said a spokesman.

“Why were they not impounded? Why were they not held for 14 days?

“Was it simply to save costs and effort? What if they were much-loved family pets who had been let loose from their fields?”