Queen of Crime grew up in Torquay’s 16th-century house

The lawn of the Drum Inn in Cockington, the Devon hamlet that a young Agatha Christie visited, is one of the better spots to have a pint on a hot August day.

The Queen of Crime spent many pleasant hours at Cockington Court, the 16th-century manor home owned by friends Charles and Margaret Mallock, when she was growing up in the neighbouring coastal town of Torquay.

Christie, however, was never blinded by Cockington’s English attractiveness, which included its thatched cottages, charming tearooms, and Norman church, to the drawbacks of living in such little rural settlements.

Her renowned detective, Miss Marple, famously said, “There is much depravity in village life.”

Even though “wickedness” may be overstating the case, recent events in Cockington do appear to have exposed the worst aspects of human nature, as evidenced by the use of terms like “petty,” “selfish,” and “interfering nobodies” in social media posts regarding the treatment of the village’s mayor, Patrick the Pony.

Yes, you did read it right. A small Shetland “therapy pony,” who is four years old and little over two feet tall at the shoulder, serves as the unofficial mayor of Cockington.

Patrick succeeded Don Mills, a Cockington resident who had successfully advocated for making the village the first in the UK to outlaw yellow lines and for new restrooms in the village car park to have a thatched roof until he passed away in 2019.

Nobody is fooling themselves into thinking Patrick will be equally productive.

He is, however, very lovable, as I learn when I meet him and his owners Kirk and Hannah Petrakis in the living room of their Torquay, three-bedroom house.

The duo periodically tries to get him used to being inside so that he may visit care homes and other locations that need his therapeutic skills. He typically runs about freely in a neighbouring field.

Since horses cannot be educated to use the restroom, the Petrakis family has learnt to keep an eye out for Patrick’s tail to rise before rushing forward with a bright orange bucket.

Despite this flaw, he gets along well with the couple’s three kids, Amy, 9, Naomi, 10, and Sophia, 16, as well as their black lab Pippa and gecko, Echo.

So how did Patrick get promoted to such a high position?

After he spoke at a charity event for Ukraine, Kirk, 44, recalls, “someone joked that he does so much good work for the community that he should become mayor.

We thought it would be a bit of fun so we organised a petition and more than 200 people signed it.”

Kirk, who was born and raised in Torquay, used to go to Cockington with his grandmother when he was a little child and enjoyed going on the famous horse-and-carriage trips there.

But it wasn’t until 2013, when he was touring the community as part of his rehabilitation after a nearly catastrophic brain haemorrhage, that he realised the final horse and carriage company in the community was up for sale.

They made the decision to do it since Hannah is a skilled horsewoman.

They purchased four horses with the names Cowboy, Nugget, Annie, and Steve to pull the carriages, and in 2019 they welcomed Patrick.

Kirk recalls, “Whenever we were showing him about Cockington, we realised how much people enjoyed meeting him.”

The bay pony, who was born on St. Patrick’s Day, has a thing for Guinness.

Because of this, it was fitting that Kevin Foster, the Tory MP for Torbay, attended his inauguration on July 23 at the Drum Inn.

For the occasion, Patrick had a custom mayoral robe made out of a vivid red horse blanket.

His gold office chain, with one of the horse brasses available at Cockington’s gift store as its centrepiece, added the final touch, however.

Of course, everything was extremely joking, and most people interpreted it positively.

But since then, events have darkened. Sadly, Patrick is now essentially forbidden from entering the Drum Inn’s garden, where Kirk and Hannah had been permitted to construct his “interaction pen” a year earlier.

Patrick practised his “pony therapy” in this modest, enclosed area, which was about 12 feet by 14 feet.

Or, to quote Hannah, 37, “standing still and letting others touch him.” He loves it and says it truly comforts him.

His most recent encounter was with 14-year-old Jon Tarrant-Heckford from Ringwood, Hampshire, who has Sanfilippo syndrome, a hereditary condition sometimes known as juvenile Alzheimer’s.

Jon is terminally sick and saw him towards the end of July. Jon spent about three hours with Patrick at the end of July.

This week, I received the following statement from his mother, Lorraine: “We got Jon out of his wheelchair and onto the ground, and Patrick came up, prodded him, and then laid down next to him.

They became excellent friends. It meant a great deal and brought back some nice memories.

Overall, Jon’s visit seemed to be excellent, but a few days later, planning enforcement officials from Torbay Council informed the management of the Drum Inn that they had received a complaint over Patrick’s pen.

It was a pretty thorough complaint, and it was clear that a lot of effort had been made, recalls Hannah.

We removed it the same day since we didn’t want to offend anybody. It wasn’t just a pen; it was everything it stood for, and that’s why I was in tears.

Helping others was all we wanted to do. What possible issue could there be with that?

The solution appears to be a simple violation of planning law. The Drum Inn was built by renowned architect Sir Edwin Lutyens, who is well known for creating the Cenotaph in London, and is a Grade II-listed structure, according to Torbay Council. Cockington is also located inside a conservation area.

The Friends of Cockington Country Park (FCCP), a volunteer-run group that describes itself as a “forum for those who care passionately about Cockington and its preservation and protection,” was obviously concerned about that.

It’s regrettable that they put their pony pen in the centre of a delicate, significant, and historic conservation area, said Robin Emdon, the FCCP’s Facebook page administrator, on August 2.

Kirk and Hannah assert that additional fences in Cockington have been erected without a permit, but nothing has been done about it.

What makes Patrick’s pen different from others, then? Some think the animosity stems from the couple’s decision to end their carriage company last fall after a protracted disagreement with the Torbay Coast & Countryside Trust about enough winter grazing in the hamlet.

This might seem like a very leafy, thatched cottage type of area, but some people may have felt that [the Petrakises] were being unreasonable in their demands about the grazing and trying to make themselves into a bigger story than the village itself, as noted by Andrew Barrand, a local councillor and another Patrick fan.

However, Patrick quickly took centre stage, and not everyone was in favour of an equestrian mayor.

The FCCP’s Robin Emdon was very outspoken in his criticism.

He posted a question online asking, “How many businesses and residents want this?” Patrick resembles a horse. not a human. not a representative of Cockington, either.

When contacted last week, Mr. Emdon responded that he was too busy to provide further comment.

However, other people have been much more outspoken in their criticism of the council for acting so quickly to address the lone complaint.

Many residents, according to MP Kevin Foster, “wish the council dealt with other more serious issues as promptly as they have this one,” calling it “totally over the top.”

The Drum Inn may file a retroactive planning application, according to the council, but Kirk and Hannah claim they were “pushed out” of Cockington and are searching for locations elsewhere.

While this is going on, Patrick keeps travelling to wherever people believe they need his animal magic, oblivious to all the, um, neigh-sayers. His pen is now reduced to 11 upright poles.

They are a perplexing sight for tourists since they are too firmly attached to be removed without equipment.

If told to them, they may find it difficult to accept that such tragic events could have happened in this wonderful setting.

You never know what will crawl out of a stone in an English hamlet, as Miss Marple once said.

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