A colourful businessman who says he is being harassed by burglars and arsonists has deployed a modified Roman siege engine to protect his premises. For use as a non-lethal security measure the catapult is loaded with chicken excrement, but even so its use has been forbidden by the police - apparently resulting in more break-ins.
The poo-flinging machine, described by its owner "Grumpy Joe" Weston-Webb as "an enormous replica of a Roman boulder thrower"*, was originally built for the purpose of hurling female stunt performers across rivers. Weston-Webb's all-girl "Motobirds" stunt troupe was a famous 1970s and 1980s attraction: at one point he successfully shot his wife out of a cannon across the River Avon, though unfortunately she rebounded from the safety net on the other side and landed in the water.
This was merely one of Weston-Webb's many triumphs as a stunt impresario, which are detailed here. We were particularly impressed with the story of the "the first ever gorilla to parachute into a showground", which apparently led to one of many prosecutions by the RSPCA. (Weston-Webb insists that the luckless ape was not pushed out of the plane: "He leaned out too far reaching for the banana on the end of the stick, your honour.")
Another animal-cruelty lawsuit resulted after his attempt to stage an underwater wrestling match between a man and the largest crocodile then in captivity in Europe. But "the croc wouldn’t fight," says "Grumpy Joe". As soon as it was released from the tank it bolted, causing consternation among the crowd - and for Weston-Webb, who "could see his investment disappearing". The frustrated fight promoter apparently rugby-tackled the fleeing reptile and "tied its jaws together with my dressing-gown cord".
In later years Weston-Webb settled down somewhat, inventing a portable snap-together flooring system for use in marquees at outdoor events, for dancefloors and so forth. His company Portable Floormakers had achieved a turnover greater than £2m by 2003, allowing him to "semi retire" to America to run "a popular comedy dinner show" called "FIASCOS - where dining meets disaster". After the company premises were destroyed by a hurricane he returned to the UK in 2006.
Meanwhile, Weston-Webb had got into a business dispute with his son Michael regarding the Portable Floormakers firm, which he and his wife continued to own while in the US. The argument ended with Ratcliffe on Soar-based Portable Floormakers Ltd liquidated in 2005, and the administrator selling its assets to a new company, Portable Floormaker, controlled by Michael. The administrator stated that Portable Floormakers Ltd had acquired unsustainable debts as a result of activities by its sister company in the US, but that the UK part of the business was viable.
Now Weston-Webb is back in the snap-together flooring business in the UK under the banner "Grumpy Joe's Flooring". He says he has won a lucrative contract to supply dancefloors for Strictly Come Dancing. He also says, however, that his new enterprise suffered an arson attack in 2008 and that cars outside his daughter's house had tyres slashed and windows smashed on the same night.
There were also other break-ins and vandalism. All this led Weston-Webb to dust off his old armoury of show weapons, loading the woman-hurling catapult with chicken dung and rigging it as a booby trap to deter intruders. The person-firing cannon was also loaded with a railway sleeper, with Weston-Webb explaining to the Times that it wasn't possible to put his wife in any more.
“She’s 54 now and far too big to fit into the cannon,” he told the paper.
However, local cops, learning of the "smart poo" defences, advised Weston-Webb that these measures didn't come under the heading of reasonable force. He reluctantly disarmed the weaponry. Perhaps encouraged by this, miscreants struck again on Monday night. Tools, a computer and a plasma TV were taken and again there was vandalism - to the tune of £10k all-up, Weston-Webb says.
He's plainly a believer that every Englishman has the right to defend his property, if necessary using powerful siege artillery loaded with excrement.
"It is ridiculous that we are in this situation now in which we can't defend ourselves," he told the Telegraph yesterday. ®
*The machine actually seems more in the nature of a medieval trebuchet than a Roman ballista, as it appears to use a counterweighted beam rather than torsion in ox muscle fibre or modern equivalents.