A CONTROVERSIAL animal circus is returning to Colchester.

Last year, the Great British Circus sparked a renewed outcry against the alleged cruelty of using wild animals for pleasure, after footage was leaked which appeared to show an elephant being hit.

Animal welfare campaigners used the footage to issue a rallying call, urging the Government to ban the use of animals in circuses.

Protesters subsequently gathered outside the big top when it arrived in Stanway last summer to make their feelings known.

Tending Council also looked into banning the circus completely, but was ultimately only able to ban it from setting up on council-owned land. It is powerless to prevent the circus taking place on private land.

Mark Jones, programme director at Sussex-based charity Care for the Wild International, claimed the video footage last year was further evidence of the alleged “neglect, misuse and abuse” of animals, something the Great British Circus has always strenuously denied.

Mr Jones continued: “Following revelations last year, there was a Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs public consultation which revealed more than 94 per cent of respondents supported a ban. We now don’t know what the new Government is planning.

“Please don’t go to this circus because by doing so you become complicit in the continued use of wild animals and the abuse that we believe goes on.”

However, Chris Barltrop, spokesman for the circus, insisted there was a “huge following” for the circus – and its animals – in Colchester.

“People are keen to see them,” he claimed. “The controversy is artificially created. People follow the circus because they like to see it and that is the view of most people.

“There are going to be far more people there than there are going to be actively demonstrating about the circus. I think those people are stirring up controversy rather than representing genuine public feeling. The circus is always subject to strict inspection and we are very happy to welcome inspectors.

“Since the circus was in Colchester last year it has been rigorously inspected and they expressed pleasure at how the animals are kept.

“I would rather take notice of those neutral scientific views. Too often it is simply used as a vehicle for people whose real purpose is for political agitation.”

The Great British Circus will be in London Road, Stanway, from July 20 to 25.