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Swaffham Raceway owner insists no dogs will be harmed when greyhound racing returns to the town

“If I thought any cruelty was happening, I would stop it.”

Those are the words of Eddie Lesley, the owner of Swaffham Raceway, who has moved to assure concerned parties that no dogs will be harmed when greyhound racing returns to the venue.

A grand reopening of the raceway was held last week, following on from a number of years during which the bar and function room were closed.

Greyhounds look set to return to Swaffham Raceway next year: Picture: iStock
Greyhounds look set to return to Swaffham Raceway next year: Picture: iStock

However, the confirmation that greyhound racing will return to the town has led to anger from various campaigners.

Stock car racing, which is externally leased, is currently the only event to be held at the venue.

Annie Boddey, who co-founded Action for Greyhounds in 1999 because of concerns about the number of dogs bred to supply demand in the industry, believes that should remain the case.

She says her concerns are shared by the likes of the RSPCA, Dogs Trust, Blue Cross and the animal charity League Against Cruel Sports.

“Action for Greyhounds believe that one greyhound to suffer and die in the name of greed and entertainment is one greyhound too many,” she said.

Ms Boddey referenced a continued decrease in licensed greyhound tracks around the country, and does not feel more need to be commissioned.

Suzy Grey, from Norwich, is a greyhound campaigner who owns six of the racing dogs.

On the Swaffham plans, she said: “This would be a massive backward step, bearing in mind the public’s attitude to greyhound racing has changed significantly over the last few years.

“Every time a greyhound races, its life is in danger. Achieving speeds of up to 45mph, these dogs crash into one another on the bends so it isn’t surprising that so many injuries or deaths occur.

“Banger racing at Swaffham is great fun, but quite clearly the participants wear protective clothing and helmets; the vehicles kitted out with roll bars.

“They have the choice to participate or not. Greyhounds are expected to race with no protection whatsoever and they have no choice.

“Greyhound racing must not resume at Swaffham purely on grounds of genuine welfare of the dogs.”

However, Mr Leslie has said that he wants to promote a message of “taking responsibility” at the raceway.

He told the Lynn News he is sympathetic with the views of animal rights campaigners, and says he shares some of their concerns.

“In my opinion, when a dog finishes racing, the owner should take responsibility for that dog,” he said.

“In racing as a whole across the country, there are not enough owners responsible after a dog finishes racing. That is not good enough.

“In life, you will always get bad people who treat animals badly. We will never let people race here who are like that.

“If I thought any cruelty was happening, I would stop it.”

Mr Leslie insisted that greyhounds which race at Swaffham will be cared for, regularly exercised and well fed.

He has been involved in the sport for 44 years, and says that whenever a dog has finished racing, it comes home with him.

“All dogs love chasing something. It is in a greyhound's initiative to chase, and they have that ability,” he added.

“Greyhound racing is not about gambling, you are in it for fun. We want to reintroduce back at Swaffham taking responsibility. That is key.”

Swaffham Town Council, from which mayor Stewart Bell and fellow councillors attended the grand raceway reopening last week, has said it is “pleased to see another employment opportunity open up in the town”.

There are 21 licensed greyhound stadiums in the UK, excluding Northern Ireland, as of September this year, while there is just one independent stadium.

However, the plans are not going down as well with everyone.

Norfolk resident Julie Smythe told the Lynn News: “I have just found out about the plans to re-start greyhound racing at Swaffham and just cannot believe, in this day and age, when the so-called ‘sport’ is slowly dying a death, that a new track could come on board.

“Thousands of greyhounds are injured and die every year through racing and thousands more are re-homed.

“Any dog rehoming charity will tell you it is backed up with ex-racing greyhounds – we do not need more being bred to feed a new track at Swaffham.”

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