CIRCUS chiefs have vowed to take legal action after alleging protesters posed as council officials to claim their show had been cancelled.

Owners of the Great British Circus, which arrived in Rochford yesterday for its annual three-week stay, say they discovered their promotional posters defaced.

Fake notices were pasted over several flyers in Leigh, claiming Southend Council had stepped in to cancel the show.

Martin Lacey, the circus’s owner, said he had already called in police to deal with the matter and would not hesitate to start court proceedings if the culprits were caught.

He said: “Some members of our team arrived here over the weekend and were the ones to discover what had happened.

“It is a very serious problem and we have asked the police to deal with it accordingly.

“To use the council’s name in this way is disgraceful.”

The Great British Circus is one of the few remaining shows in the UK to still use wild animals in its performances.

Animal-rights campaigners have staged protests outside its base near the Anne Boleyn pub in Southend Road, Rochford, for the last two years and say they will do so again this month, starting tonight.

They have called for the Government to outlaw the circus’s performances under the Animal Welfare Act 2006, although Whitehall opted for a licensing scheme rather than an outright ban when it ruled on the issue in May.

However, Julia Greenwood, spokeswoman for Southend Animal Aid, said she would not condone defacing posters.

She said: “We do not protest illegally.

“What we would usually do is go into the shop or place displaying the poster, explain the issues of animal cruelty to the owner and then ask them to remove it.

“We have been doing that this year and the response so far has been very positive.”

A spokesman for Southend Council said the authority had not received any reports of its name being used erroneously, despite Mr Martin Lacey claiming he had reported the incidents.

He added: “The circus was required to ask for permission before displaying these posters and it did not.

“We do not know anything about the posters being altered, but the circus did not have permission for them in the first place and we will be taking them down.”