Police have told an elderly grandmother she must not make a massive Double Gloucester wheel for locals to chase down a hill at a popular event – because she could be liable for any injuries.
Farmer Diana Smart, 86, of Churcham, Gloucestershire, has been making a special hand-made wheel of cheese for the Cooper’s Hill Cheese-Rolling and Wake, which sees daredevils chasing cheese down the 200-yard Cooper’s Hill near Brockworth, for a quarter of a century.
A one-foot-wide cheese wheel is rolled down the hill – followed by brave competitors who risk life and limb to chase it and reach the bottom first.
Injuries suffered at the cheese rolling including broken arms, legs and even backs.
Following health and safety fears 2009 was the last official cheese rolling event – but unofficially the event is still held every year, without proper medical cover or insurance.
But Mrs Smart, who has provided the large piece of cheese since 1988, has now been warned off doing so for this year’s race on Monday – after a visit by three police officers.
They visited her farm and told her not to donate five 8lb wheels of her cheese in a bid to prevent the ‘dangerous’ event.
She was warned she could be liable for anybody injured – and so has pulled out.
It is the first time in its 200-year history that police have banned a cheesemaker providing the cheese – leaving organisers considering using something else instead.
Mrs Smart said the ‘heavy-handed’ police visited her home last week and told in a ‘threatening’ manner she would be responsible for any injuries caused.
She said: ‘We are not allowed to give them cheese this year. The police came to my farm and said it could cause us an enormous amount of damages.
‘I just have to take it as they have said. We cannot do anything about it. It’s crackers the fact that the police came round and warned me not to give the event some cheese.’
She added: ‘I like doing it, it’s always brought me such joy and a smile. The police were so heavy-handed.
‘They threatened me, saying I would be wholly responsible if anyone got injured. I’m 86, I don’t have the will or the cash to fight any lawsuits. It’s crazy.
‘I really don’t know if anyone will step up to the plate and provide them with a cheese.
‘It’s such a shame – the police are using scare tactics on businesses because they can’t break the will of the locals.’
The event sees runners reach speeds of up to 70mph as they hurtle down the steep slope after the rolling cheese.
There are five races – three for men, one for women, and one safer uphill chase for children.
Organisers of the annual spectacle said they will defy any bid to stop the race happening.
A spokesperson said: ‘It’s outrageous. Completely unbelievable. You cannot stop someone selling cheese.
‘If they try to stop us, we will use something else or get some cheese elsewhere.’
A Gloucestershire police spokesman confirmed Diana had been given ‘advice’.
He said: ‘Advice has been given to all those who have participated in any planning of an unofficial cheese rolling event this coming bank holiday.
‘This included the individuals who provide the cheese. We feel it is important that those who, by law, could be constituted as organisers of the event are aware of the responsibilities that come with it so that they can make an informed decision about their participation.’
Matthew Sinclair, chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, slammed the police for threatening Mrs Smart.
He said: ‘Taxpayers will be appalled that the valuable time of three police officers was wasted trying to scare an elderly lady into withdrawing her involvement in a centuries-old tradition.
‘People expect the police to be keeping us safe and solving crime, not badgering innocent old ladies.
‘Anyone participating in the cheese-rolling needs to take personal responsibility for themselves and the idea that Diana Smart should be liable for any injuries is frankly ludicrous.’
Mrs Smart sells her traditionally-made cheeses at farmers’ markets and luxury grocers Fortnum and Mason.