AN arrest warrant has been issued for the owner of an animal rescue centre in Malmesbury after a judge heard he had booked himself onto a flight to Antigua.

Rodgen Stewart, 28, of Bradley Road, Trowbridge, faces allegations of coercive and controlling behaviour, making threats to kill and perverting the course of justice.

At Swindon Crown Court on Thursday, Judge Jason Taylor QC was told by prosecutor Simon Goodman that checks by the police showed Stewart took a British Airways flight to Antigua on February 10 and had not returned.

On March 19 Stewart announced on social media his Eden Animal Rescue Sanctuary in Malmesbury was to close following ‘financial difficulties brought on by the pandemic’.

The sanctuary began operating in the summer of 2018 and was home to more than 40 farm animals, cared for by six enthusiastic volunteers.

In a post on the sanctuary's Facebook account he said: “During the past year, Eden Animal Rescue Sanctuary has been running on limited funds as our main sponsors were negatively impacted financially as a result of the pandemic.

“We have now reached a point where we no longer can afford to run the sanctuary, and with the best interest of our animals at heart the best option for us is to rehome our animals to new, loving homes.

“This is one of the most difficult decisions I have ever had to make.

“Our main goal has always been to give our animals the life and love they deserve, and by making this decision we are allowing for them to receive just that.

“I would personally like to thank our volunteers, sponsors, those who have lent us a helping hand and those who have kindly donated material and food for the sanctuary.”

Former volunteer workers at the sanctuary say they attempted to stop the closure of the centre but their efforts were rejected.

In a statement, a number of former volunteer workers said: “We were informed of the closure on Friday.

“A few of us offered a rescue package to save the centre but it was refused and we were sacked.

“We are upset with how we were let go so suddenly without understanding the reasons behind the decision.

“We have since received a message that we are no longer permitted to be within the grounds and any attempt to enter from now on with be trespassing.”