A stable boss has faced a £12,000 repair bill after treasure hunters dig huge holes on his farm - but fear the real cost will be a life.
A grazing field at Tile Shed Farm, East Boldon, is a magnet for people searching for old bottles, pottery and ornaments after it was used as a tip once clay was dug out by Victorian brickmakers.
“Bottling” has left holes dug 3ft deep and up to 10ft across, leading police to warn they could put horses and riders at risk.
Ken Ferguson, 51, who runs the yard with dad John, 85, has spent £12,000 filling holes and repairing the grass and fences.
But he fears finding someone trapped, as many have dug sideways under the top layer to shift through mud, as well as for the safety of horses because it is close to the Metro line.
The problem has grown over the last two years after the nearby bridleway was extended into the South Tyneside Council-owned field.
Not only are those responsible trespassing and damaging private land but they’re also putting the horses - and if they’re being ridden, the rider - at a significant amount of risk.Inspector John Smith
During one visit by an officer, a fence collapsed as they assessed damage.
Ken said: “There’s waste down there and while there won’t be asbestos, who knows what they’re bringing up to the surface and clearly there’s a health and safety issue.
“We’ve come across some paint tins which will have lead in them and one lick of that and it’ll be the end for any horse.
“Some have come and asked us if they can dig the field, but we’ve told them they can’t because it’s dangerous.
“The subsidence around here is horrendous and if it goes, it’ll be too late.”
The latest damage happened between 8pm on Monday and 7am on Tuesday.
Inspector John Smith said: “Not only are those responsible trespassing and damaging private land but they’re also putting the horses - and if they’re being ridden, the rider - at a significant amount of risk.
“I’d ask anyone who has information to please get in contact with us so that we can take the necessary action to help prevent it from happening in the future.”
Witnesses can call police on 101 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.