A leading British horse rider has recounted how she, her horse, and her family were ambushed and attacked by migrants while returning home from the world championships via Calais.
Lucy Phillips, 26, who is fifth on the International Federation for Equestrian Sports rankings list for vaulting, was returning from the championships in Le Mans in the early hours of Monday morning when the incident happened.
Approaching the port, her father Bill, who was driving, saw that the road had been blocked by migrants who had used felled trees to construct a makeshift barricade.
“As we stopped, between seven and 10 men appeared out of the bushes,” Ms. Phillips told equestrian magazine Horse & Hound.
“They were carrying big pieces of wood and what looked like bats. They surrounded the lorry and started hitting the sides, and smacking the windows with their bats.”
Ms. Phillips went into the back of the lorry to check on her horse, and was forced to hang on to the groom’s door from the inside to prevent the migrants gaining access. “They were trying to open the groom’s door as I was holding on to it trying to fight them off, and trying to break the windows,” she said.
“My dad was blowing the horn, trying to get the police’s attention, then I heard a smash. They’d put a branch through the passenger window of the cab and my mum and dad were covered in glass.
“Mum’s face was bleeding, so was dad’s arm; it felt like forever until the police came.”
Although the police scared the migrants away and escorted the family from the scene, they then “left us and we had to drive back through Calais on our own,” said Ms. Phillips.
“It was full of groups of young men, all dressed in dark clothing. They were just milling around, not really doing anything, but it was terrifying because of course we had no passenger window.”
Ms Phillips said her horse, Pitucelli, was alarmed by the commotion when the migrants were banging on the walls, but “he’s quite old and well-travelled so he settled down”.
She added that although she had seen migrants running alongside lorries headed toward the port on previous trips, but “never blocking the road or being that violent”.
“It seems that in the last couple of months, the violence has got horrendous,” she said.
“You see the news and think it’s just the big trucks, but they don’t seem to care [who they attack] anymore.”
The family has vowed not to use the route at night anymore, and is warning others to stay away from the area. “I don’t want to scare people,” she said. “But anyone going out there needs to be so careful on the way back. We’ve vowed never to travel back at night again.”
Ms. Phillips is not the first equestrienne to be targeted by migrants in Calais.
In July 2015, a Sudanese migrant was discovered hiding under a showjumper’s horsebox during the Royal International Horse Show at Hickstead, Sussex. The venue’s owner, Edward Bunn, told Horse & Hound: “There was an illegal immigrant found under one of the showjumper’s horseboxes when it arrived on the showground, having hidden above the rear axle.”
He added: “There were two people found on the showground during the Derby meeting so at least there’s only been one at this show.”
And in October 2014 the dressage horse Valegro, winner of two gold Olympic medals, was targeted by migrants while queueing for the Eurostar. Although grooms transporting the horse on his return from a demonstration in Holland had taken precautions around the port of Calais by not stopping or refuelling in the area, as the largest vehicle in the queue for the train, the horsebox was an obvious target.
Security officers checking the vehicle before boarding found the migrant clinging to the underside of the chassis.