TWO friends wrongly suspected of being poachers were assaulted and threatened by gamekeepers when they got lost on an authorised shooting trip, a court heard.

Michael Collins and Luke Doyle travelled to the North Yorkshire Dales in February to hunt rabbits on land belonging to the father a university colleague.

They told a jury at Teesside Crown Court yesterday they were left terrified after being accosted by Lewis Williams, Douglas Maclean and Jeremy Wearmouth.

Mr Collins, 22, said he pulled over when he saw headlights, had a shotgun pointed to his head before being pulled from his van and “raggied about”

by burly Mr Williams.

Mr Doyle, 19, was being manhandled and threatened by Mr MacLean, who arrived at the scene near Askrigg on a quadbike, the court was told.

It is said the situation eased after the friends proved they had permission to shoot, but tempers flared again when head gamekeeper Mr Wearmouth turned up.

Mr Collins told the jury that 42-year-old Mr Wearmouth headed straight for him in an aggressive way, squared up to him and grabbed him by the face and jacket.

It is alleged by the prosecution that Mr Doyle – a university friend of the landowner’s son, Adam Spence – was bundled into the back of the van.

Mr Collins said the incident came to an end when Mr Wearmouth told the others: “Right, that’s enough. Leave off now.”

He said: “He realised it had gone a bit too far.”

Mr Wearmouth, of Keepers Cottage, Gunnerside, near Richmond; Mr MacLean, 31, of Richmond; and Mr Williams, 23, of Thirley, Gunnerside, all deny affray.

Mr Williams also denies a charge of possessing a firearm with intent to cause a fear of violence during the same incident, in the early hours of February 28.

In police interviews, the three men denied that the friends were pulled from the van, or that they were attacked, and maintain the gun was never moved from Mr Williams’s quadbike.

Peter Sabiston, prosecuting, told the jury: “The Crown says that when these two lads were stopped on the moors, they were manhandled, roughly treated and threatened with a shotgun.

“The defendants are all consistent in their interviews, saying a shotgun was never brandished, and none of them used any force.

“The issues are simple. It will come down to which witnesses you believe.”

The trial is expected to last three days, and will continue today.