STARTLED magistrate was left with a £7,000 repair bill when a squirrel went nuts and ransacked her living room after falling down her chimney.
The rampaging intruder clawed curtains, soiled carpets, ruined a sofa and even gnawed through plastic double-glazing frames during a desperate bid to escape.
Margaret Bousfield, a JP at Hartlepool Magistrates’ Court, was asleep at the time and feared she herself was becoming a victim of crime after the commotion triggered her burglar alarm.
She remained upstairs until a concerned neighbour let himself in the house to confront the surprise trespasser.
The squirrel, itself covered in soot, resisted all capture attempts and continued rushing around until it was let out of a window.
So great was the carnage that it took six months to completely refurbish the room.
Speaking now for the first time about the incident, Margaret, 64, said: “The disruption was unbelievable.
“My first thought was I’ll just clean this up. I didn’t realise how long the damage would take to sort.”
Thankfully the cost of the repairing the room was covered by insurance.
Margaret, a former headteacher and executive headteacher at Hartlepool’s Fens Primary School, added: “The room’s smell was a combination of smoky soot from the fire, squirrel urine and pollen and stale water from a knocked over lily vase.
“I’m quite a strong critter but I had chosen the sofa material with my late husband, John, so when I was told the sofa and carpets had to be replaced it really did affect me.”
Margaret, who lives in the tree-lined Park Road area of town, can now laugh about the ordeal and when asked if the animal was a red or grey squirrel, replied: “Neither. It was a black squirrel from the soot.”
Security has also been stepped up with a new mesh placed over the fireplace to deter a return visit.
She believes the squirrel may have knocked itself out on falling down the chimney and reacted so violently after it woke up because it was disorientated.
The mother-of-two said: “The first thing I heard was the burglar alarm go off as it woke me up. My first thought was that someone was downstairs. My neighbour entered the room holding a cushion to his chest. The squirrel was going wild but he managed to open a window and it was covered in dirt and it shot from the house like a bullet.”
Squirrel expert Ian Bond, Hartlepool Borough Council’s ecologist, while describing the leafy Park Road area as “squirrel heaven”, said: “I have never heard anything like that in 10 years in Hartlepool.
“This type of thing can happen in other areas with far more trees than we have because squirrels are always on the hunt for the right environment to build a home.
“They do not just have to live in trees and are known to take up residence in lofts and attics.
“It may well be that it was looking for somewhere desirable to live when it fell down the chimney.”
Mr Bond believes the intruder was likely to have been a grey squirrel as the rarer red variety has not been spotted in Hartlepool since 2005.
He added: “They have a formidable pair of incisors and have a go at gnawing anything to get to where they need to be.”