High street giant Sports Direct was forced to close a store on its first day back after lockdown after discovering a snake.
It is feared that the creature – thought to be a Honduran milk snake – could have been lurking in the retailer’s Newton Abbot branch in Devon ever since all non-essential shops were ordered to close due to coronavirus in March.
The sports clothing and accessories store had to close its doors to queuing customers for several hours today after the non-venomous serpent was found inside at roughly 11am.
At one point, police were even called to deal with the unfolding drama, Devon Live reports.
Snake expert Sean Nichol, from For Goodness Snakes, says he made his way to the store hoping to help the animal after being told by friends what had happened.
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Mr Nichol, who believes the animal may have escaped from a flat above the store, claims that staff contacted a local vet who captured the reptile.
But they reportedly then apparently refused to hand it over to Mr Nichol for safekeeping, despite apparently receiving the blessing of the RSPCA and waiting at the scene for hours.
The snake was eventually handed to a local vet in Newton Abbot, about six hours after it was first found.
Mr Nichol says he is “furious” about the delay, which he feels prolonged the snake’s suffering.
“That snake was found at 11am and did not get help until 5pm. It was ridiculous,” he said.
“I would have had that back at mine and looking after it in no time. At the end of the day, they really prolonged the suffering of that animal.
“I showed them all my licences and insurance and hung around all day, but they wouldn’t give me the snake – I think they thought I was trying to get a free snake.
“Even the RSPCA told them to give me the snake, but they wouldn’t.
“At least it will get food and water – that is all I care about. It just didn’t need to go the whole day without attention.
“Don’t forget, that thing could have been in there since March as they only reopened today.
“They obviously didn’t give two tosses about it. I can at least relax now knowing it is safe.”
Mr Nichol was not the only one enraged by the treatment of the animal.
Chris Butler, a 27-year-old coach driver from Weymouth, was in the queue with his girlfriend, Zoe, when they heard about the snake inside.
The couple watched the episode unfold as Sports Direct staff refused to give Mr Nichol the snake, and were incensed they would not let the creature receive the care they felt it needed.
“We had been queuing outside for at least two hours,” Chris said. “It was closed when we turned up. and a lady said it was because there was a snake inside.
“Half an hour later, a snake expert turned up. He had all proper equipment and uniform, but they wouldn’t let him in as they said they needed an official vet.
“The vet turned up about 30 minutes later. Even the vet agreed that the snake guy was better placed to catch the snake but they still said no.
“The vet went in with literally a piece of wood and managed to catch it 20 minutes later, but they just left it in a box and did not give it any help.
“My girlfriend is an animal lover and she was really annoyed. They told her she was barred from the store because she felt so strongly about it.
“It was all so bizarre and just completely wrong.”
Devon and Cornwall Police later confirmed they were called as tempers became frayed.
“Police were called at 12.15pm today (15 June) following a report of a snake being found within the Sports Direct store in Newton Abbot,” said a spokesperson.
“We didn’t attend to deal with the snake but there were reports of a verbal altercation outside the store and a group of people reportedly acting in an intimidating manner.
“On arrival the snake was already captured and safely in a box. All was in order outside the store and no were offences committed.”
“The snake obviously wasn’t Sports Direct’s No.1 priority, but it was ours,” Mr Nichol contiued.
“I only wanted to help the thing and at least it is with a vet now. Even the police said I should probably take it, but they just said no.
“That thing could have been in there since the start of lockdown in March.
“It could have been pregnant and laid eggs in there, there could be more of them. I don’t feel it was handled very well.”
The RSPCA has confirmed that the snake is now being looked after by a vet and that none of its officers attended the incident.
Sports Direct has been contacted for comment.