PROTESTORS, banners, placards and even two police officers - it is not what you would normally expect to see at a charity's summer open day.

But this was the latest twist in an internal dispute over the running of St Francis Animal Welfare shelter in Fair Oak.

A small group of demonstrators armed with banners assembled on the grass verge outside the shelter in Mortimers Lane during yesterday's (SUN) fundraising afternoon.

They were protesting at the decision by the charity's committee to suspend the shelter's live-in manager of nearly 30 years, Ann Hillman.

The suspension came just a month after the Charity Commission revealed it was investigating complaints about the running of the charity.

The committee that runs St Francis was controversially re-elected at an annual general meeting in March, where up to 50 apparently paid-up members were barred from attending.

Police were called to keep the peace at the stormy meeting, with the committee saying it feared it would be hijacked by a rival group trying to gain control of the charity.

During recent weeks the sanctuary has been temporarily closed to the public, except for those with pre-arranged appointments.

However, the charity said this was so staff could concentrate on the animals and it was now business as usual.

One of the demonstrators Mary Windebank, whose father set up the charity, said people should still support the work of the shelter which looks after unwanted and abandoned animals.

But she said she was unhappy at the way the charity had been run over recent months.

Inside the gates yesterday afternoon it was a different story with both young and old visitors enjoying meeting some of the shelter's residents including cats, dogs and goats.

Other attractions included face painting, a candy floss stall, bouncy castle, a tombola and local businesses selling their wares and donating raffle prizes.

A spokesman for the shelter, which has been caring for and re-homing unwanted pets and animals for the last 55 years, said: "It is very disappointing that we have got this event and we have these supporters of the manageress outside stopping people coming in, dampening the atmosphere of the event."

The spokeswoman refused to comment about the suspension because of staff confidentiality reasons.

She said that a member of the public called the police about the protest which she described as "peaceful" with no arrests, charges or official complaints.

"It is very much business as usual at the shelter. The animals are well cared for. We have got a few more members of staff and volunteers on board.

"Nothing has changed apart from a member of staff has been suspended. The aim of the charity is still the same."