A TRAVELLING circus could face a frosty reception from animal lovers when it arrives in Leigh next week.

Bobby Roberts Super Circus opens next Wednesday, April 6 on land alongside the Greyhound Roundabout on the East Lancashire Road at Glazebury. Now its star attraction, Anne, a 58-year-old Asian elephant, is the centre of attention after a video and article was published by a national newspaper showing her being beaten with a pitchfork.

The Journal received scores of messages and phone calls from people voicing concerns over the treatment of the elephant.

The video showed Anne being hit with a pitchfork and kicked by a groom.

The pressure group Animal Defenders International planted a camera at the circus’ winter base after becoming concerned about Anne's welfare.

The Asian elephant has been travelling with the circus since the 1950s when she was bought by Mr Roberts's parents for around £3,000.

But Cheshire Police and the RSPCA have confirmed that Anne has been retired and is not touring with the circus presently in Knutsford, but is currently at the company’s Northamptonshire base.

The Roberts family has said A CIRCUS currently visiting Knutsford has said the video showing Anne the elephant being hit by one of its workers was ‘not acceptable’.

On the circus website they said: “The Bobby Roberts family have viewed the footage taken by Animal Defenders at their premises and share the outrage at what appears to have taken place in their absence.

“The camera was in place for nearly three weeks and the incidents recorded appear to be isolated and at times when Bobby Roberts was away for short periods. The film shows an employee hitting our elephant Anne with the back of a pitchfork in order to make her move to one side while her stabling was being cleaned out. This is not acceptable nor is it necessary.

“Anne has been with us for 55 years, not just as a performing animal but as a family pet. She has been trained through kindness and reward to willingly obey gentle, spoken commands. She is now an elderly lady and the incidents appear to have been driven by a lack of patience in our employee.

“We believe the film was taken on the occasional days that Bobby Roberts was absent from our farm and the employee was left on his own. The actions of the employee, had they been known, would not have been tolerated and had they taken place in Bobby Roberts' presence they would have led to an instant dismissal.”

The family said that Bobby Roberts has had an ‘unblemished career’ as an animal trainer for more 50 years and that he was not involved in or aware of these incidents taking place.

“He is deeply saddened that Anne, for whom he has deep affection, and who clearly loves Bobby, should have, in any way suffered,” the statement added.

“Bobby was completely unaware of what was happening and had the employee not disappeared he would have been sacked immediately.

“Whilst we are grateful to Animal Defenders for bringing to our attention the completely unacceptable behaviour of our employee, we are strongly critical of the fact that it has taken them several weeks to report the matter and did not, in the interests of animal welfare, take immediate steps to inform us of the problem.”