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EXCLUSIVE: Armed police storm former Hovefields travellers' pub during lockdown after 'fight

Rifle-wielding police stormed a sleepy village pub after fighting broke out between travellers during a lockdown "lock-in".

The White Horse, in Otham, near Maidstone, Kent, was surrounded by several armed police units in scenes that shocked residents of the rural village named in the Domesday Book. It is understood people had been drinking inside, but the temporarily-closed pub had not been open to the public. Officers were called to reports of a physical and verbal altercation outside and a knife potentially being seen at just before midnight. A bare-chested man was forced to kneel after being handcuffed and a further seven arrests were made of people who had been in the pub. A Kent Police spokesman said: "A large number of people were reported to have become involved in a verbal and physical altercation in White Horse Lane shortly before midnight on Saturday, May 2. "There was a report of a possible weapon being used such as a knife. “Upon arrival, officers arrested six men, aged 65, 38, 34, 34, 26 and 25 and two women, aged 61 and 30, on suspicion of affray and were taken into custody. “No serious injuries have been reported and no weapons were found.” The group were later released under investigation. The quaint pub and B&B was bought by the McCanns, a family of travellers, who moved there in late 2010 after losing a high profile planning battle with Basildon Council.

MINE'S A PINT: Gerry McCann and pals enjoy drinks in The White Horse before the lockdown (Google)

They had fought to stay living on an illegally-built caravan pitch at the Hovefields site, Wickford, just over a mile from the huge Dale Farm camp. White Horse landlady Catherine McCann, 61, who also uses her maiden name Small, was awarded legal aid to fight a council demolition order served on the plot called "Hampton Court" which she told a planning inquiry she occupied as a single mother of seven. Mrs McCann claimed during the inquiry the plot was built without planning permission as she was unable to afford an authorised pitch and she needed it as she had never lived in conventional housing. It later emerged her family had lived in, and even owned, traditional housing over the previous 20 years and she had paid £230,000 cash for a five-bedroom house called Southview just a few hundred metres from Hampton Court during the planning battle. She was charged with fraud by the Legal Aid Agency, and later cleared at a retrial after the jury heard she had been advised to sign legal aid forms by a blind solicitor. She still had to pay back more than £6,000 of legal aid.

LET'S WORK: Gerry McCann renovating Southview in 2009 (Jon Austin)

Settled residents, who lived near Hampton Court, branded the family "neighbours from hell" and claimed Mrs McCann's husband, Gerry, also known as Archie, McCann, actually lived there and ran a team of homeless block pavers from a neighbouring pitch. One couple living next to Hampton Court released a "diary of despair" to their local paper in 2007 that detailed more than 230 alleged incidents of crime and anti-social behavior said to have stemmed from Hampton Court and another pitch. The 14-page log included 64 incidents of gunshots or attacks on their property from airguns, catapults, stones, concrete and fireworks, 12 major police incidents, including gun battles, stabbings and feuds involving guns, knives and samurai swords, near their home, and 11 acts of intimidation, including cars driven at them, a hangman's noose left in the garden, and threats of violence and slow deaths if they spoke at a public inquiry When approached by the paper, the McCanns denied all the allegations.

NICE PAD: The five-bedroom home at Hovefields bought by Mrs McCann for £230,000 cash (Jon Austin)

Mr McCann, who has convictions for theft, rogue trader offences and commercial flytipping, told a 2008 Grays Magistrates Court trial into allegations he helped steal diesel by syphoning it out of a lorry he was a born again Christian, but was still convicted. Mrs McCann paid £250,000 cash for the pub at auction, outbidding locals who tried to club together to buy it for £235,000. The McCanns claim allegations against them stem for prejudice against travellers. A sign photographed outside the pub during the armed raid states: "Discrimination, prejudiced, harassment hate is a sickness". In September 2015 Mrs McCann was cleared of assault after being charged with hitting a neighbour over the head with a beer bottle. She told the court Peter Middleton had taken against them after they took over the pub. After a three-day civil trial at Maidstone Magistrates’ Court in December 2015 the McCanns had to surrender around £89,000 that the court deemed was the proceeds of crime linked to the family. Gordon Menzies, representing Kent Police, said the cash was taken during three raids at the pub after burglaries in the local area. The force was unable to charge any family members with specific crimes, but said there was no identifiable source of the money, it stemmed from criminal activity and no tax had been paid by the family between 2003 and 2011. Mrs McCann later told the local newspaper the case was further prejudice and the money was income from the pub, rental income from Southview and Mr McCann's business earnings. In November 2007 Gerry McCann senior had to pay £2,210 fines and costs after admitting commercial fly-tipping in Halling, Kent. The same month son Jimmy McCann, 38, was charged with aggravated vehicle taking, and driving while disqualified. The following may he was convicted to a 12-month suspended prison sentence and 240 hours community service. A spokeswoman for Maidstone Council said as the pub was not open, "the Covid breach was not a licensing issue." She said there had been no previous complaints about the pub.

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