A CONTROVERSIAL circus accused of animal cruelty has opened in Chelmsford.

The Great British Circus was slammed by animal charities and politicians last month when a video of one of its trainers beating an elephant was posted on the internet.

The circus, which has now set up on Regiment Way, has sacked the Romanian trainer caught thrashing the elephant and claims it has an otherwise excellent record of animal welfare.

Despite the circus’s claims, Craig Redmond, campaigns director for the Captive Animals Protection Society, urged people to boycott the performance.

He said: “We strongly urge the public to avoid this circus and wait for one of the many excellent all-human shows to visit town.”

Staff from the circus were secretly filmed by the Animal Defenders International campaign group at a camp in Leicestershire in May.

Footage showed a worker hitting three elephants with a metal pole and they can be seen crying out in pain.

Activists also claimed the circus leaves animals chained up for long periods of time and that they suffer from cramped travelling conditions.

Chris Baltrop, a spokesman for the Great British Circus, said: “Although this is the first year we have elephants, we have been coming to Chelmsford for years with lions and tigers and the public have been able to see for themselves how well they are treated.”

He added that the elephants were not chained up but were free to graze in a paddock and that all travel undertaken by the circus was no longer than two hours.

He said: “We’ve got nothing to hide – the public can see for themselves how well our animals are treated.”