THREE gamekeepers accused of assaulting two suspected poachers on moorland in North Yorkshire walked free from court yesterday after being acquitted by a jury.

The jury took little over half an hour to reject the claims of friends Michael Collins and Luke Doyle, which were described as “a tissue of lies” by the defence barrister.

Bertie Woodcock, QC, said the account of the alleged victims was “shot through with inconsistencies” and branded the pair “poachers and liars”.

Last night, the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation said that Lewis Williams, Douglas MacLean and Jeremy Wearmouth should never have been in the dock.

The three men – who risked losing their jobs and homes if convicted – denied being aggressive towards the pair.

Mr Collins, 22, and Mr Doyle, 19, from Manchester, had been given permission to shoot rabbits on land at Aysgarth owned by the father of a university friend.

Teesside Crown Court heard that they got lost in the dark, and were up to eight miles outside the permitted boundary when they were approached by the gamekeepers.

Mr Woodcock said the friends made up the allegations out of embarrassment at being caught poaching after being welcomed into the home of their friend’s parents.

The national association’s chairman, Lindsay Waddell, called for talks, amid fears that the case could damage the relationship between members and police chiefs.

“The bizarre decision to prosecute these men risks undermining the good working relationship,” he said.

Mr Wearmouth, 41, of Keepers Cottage, Gunnerside, near Richmond; Mr MacLean, 31, of East Calvert House, Richmond; and Mr Williams, 24, denied affray. Mr Williams, of Thirley, Gunnerside, also denied a charge of possessing a firearm with intent to cause a fear of violence on the same date, early on February 28.

The court heard that the Mr Collins and Mr Doyle were seen in their van near Askrigg, part of the 36,000-acre Gunnerside estate where Mr Wearmouth is head gamekeeper.