A woman has been given a suspended sentence after more than 200 animals were removed by charities from a Surrey farm.
The woman was found guilty of 15 offences under the Animal Welfare Act* after a trial over dates in June and August this year. The charges relate to more than 130 horses, as well as dogs, donkeys, poultry, and goats, although it was claimed throughout the investigation that she was not responsible for all of the animals who were found on-site.
Surrey Police executed a warrant at a farm in Ripley, Surrey, on 9 January 2019 as part of an RSPCA-led investigation into concerns for the welfare of horses at the site. Guildford Borough Council, Bucks and Surrey Trading Standards, Bransby Horses, Redwings, The Horse Trust, The Donkey Sanctuary, World Horse Welfare, Dogs Trust and a number of vets assisted on the day. Rescuers discovered horses, dogs and farm animals living in poor conditions.
Bransby Horses’ Executive Director of Equine Welfare, Emma Carter, said: “This was one of the largest multi-agency warrants that Bransby Horses has ever been involved in and one of the most difficult for our teams to process due to the scale of the suffering and horrific conditions these animals were incarcerated in.
“These horses have been some of the most challenging that we have ever had to care for. Due to the extent of their medical and behavioural needs as a result of their neglect, some have had, and will continue to require, years of specialist care.”
Huge herds of ponies, many riddled with worms, were living out in fields with hazardous metal and broken fencing sticking up from the thick mud. Inside two barns were pens full of donkeys, goats and ponies; many of them standing on top of 2ft-3ft of months worth of waste and faeces. Many were skinny and had untreated health conditions.
Dozens of dogs – some heavily pregnant and others with tiny puppies in tow – were found chained and tethered on the filthy yard, while others were shut inside tiny cramped cages or makeshift kennels.
A total of 204 animals were discovered at the site. While three – two horses and one goat – were sadly put to sleep at the scene, the rest (201) were taken into charity care, including 129 horses and donkeys, 59 dogs, three alpacas, five goats, four chickens and one duck. Some of the sickest animals received immediate veterinary care while others were taken for treatment nearby, and those that were considered fit to travel by on-site vets were transferred to Bransby Horses, Redwings, The Horse Trust, The Donkey Sanctuary, World Horse Welfare and RSPCA centres for care and rehabilitation.
Despite urgent veterinary treatment – including from vets at one of the country’s leading equine hospitals – sadly 14 horses who were weak, emaciated, had serious worm burdens and were suffering from cyathostominosis died or were put to sleep on veterinary advice. Despite the charities’ best efforts to save them, two dogs and one goat had to be put to sleep on vet advice, and one chicken and one duck also sadly died. Twenty foals were subsequently born in charity care – although two were sadly stillborn – as well as six goat kids; one alpaca; and nine puppies, although two sadly died shortly after birth.
The woman was found guilty of failing to meet the needs of 131 equines by failing to provide a suitable environment, a water supply, adequate nutrition, routine dental or farrier care, or adequate parasitic treatment or control and treatment for prevention of illness and disease. She was also convicted of causing unnecessary suffering to a number of horses, dogs and goats.
Huge rescue mission launched
RSPCA Special Operations Unit case officer Kirsty Withnall, who coordinated the huge rescue mission and led the investigation, said: “A number of complaints about the farm had been filed with the RSPCA and World Horse Welfare and, following weeks of planning and gathering evidence, Surrey Police were able to execute a warrant. More than 100 people from different agencies spent more than 12 hours assessing the animals, rounding them up and moving them to vets and rescue centres. It’s one of the biggest animal welfare operations ever in the UK.
“We had no idea what the conditions would be like until we stepped through the gates but we had to have a plan in place that would allow us to remove a large number of animals on the day, although we hoped that wouldn’t be necessary. We had no idea what we’d find or what action would be taken until all of the animals had been assessed and we were shocked at the conditions these poor animals had been kept in.”
Prosecuting on behalf of the RSPCA, Hazel Stevens said in her sentencing summary: “Generally, the premises were in a bad state, the housing for the animals was inadequate and in many cases it presented a risk to the animals contained within the various enclosures. There was little adequate shelter, the areas were dirty and muddy, and many animals did not have access to clean, dry resting areas or water to drink. There was insufficient grazing and dangerous fences, the property posed further risk to the animals due to loose wire that had become entangled around limbs.”
Speaking after the conviction, Inspector Withnall added: “One goat found in one of the barns was severely emaciated, unable to stand and filthy; deemed to be suffering and had to be put to sleep on site.
“Dogs were found to be living in an unsuitable environment without a safe place to rest, some in crates too small for them, and some in dirty and wet kennels. Others were underweight or had serious health problems such as skin conditions, ear infections and dental disease. Poultry – including four chickens and a duck – were extremely hungry and thirsty, underweight and in poor health.”
One of two ‘muddy and dirty’ barns on site – both full of horses and other livestock – was described by on-site vets and investigators as ‘too small and unsafe’. Inside this barn – which housed horses and donkeys – rescuers made a shocking discovery.
Inspector Withnall added: “We found two ponies both suffering from cyathostomiasis, a disease caused by parasites, who were collapsed on top of each other. I initially thought one of the ponies was dead. Both were very weak and thin and, sadly, had to be put to sleep on site.”
A large number of horses were found out in the fields and investigators felt that none had been protected from hazards that could cause injury, and had not been provided with adequate care and nutrition.
A district judge found her guilty of 15 offences: five under Section 9 – for failing to meet the needs of a number of animals at the farm – and 10 under Section 4; for causing unnecessary suffering.
Ms Stevens told the court the woman’s culpability was high – due to the ‘prolonged neglect’ extending to over a year – and because the poor treatment of the animals was in a ‘commercial context’. She also told the court that it had caused a ‘high level of suffering’.
Appearing at Staines Magistrates’ Court on Thursday (25 August) to be sentenced, the woman was handed a 26-week prison sentence – suspended for 18 months – as well as being disqualified from keeping all animals for life.
A deprivation order – relating to 12 dogs and seven horses – was also issued, meaning the charities can now rehome them. All other animals had previously been signed over for care by the charities or to be rehomed.
PC Hollie Iribar from Surrey Police said: “As a Rural and Wildlife Crime Officer for Surrey Police, I have witnessed some devastating acts of animal cruelty over the years. This was one of the most difficult cases I’ve seen, and I am grateful to the RSPCA and our other partner agencies for the hard work put in to bring this case to trial.
“I’m very glad that this heartbreaking case has seen a resolution in the courts, and that the animals involved were rescued and given a second chance at a happy and healthy life.”
A Buckinghamshire and Surrey Trading Standards spokesperson said: “We’re pleased this case has now been fully resolved. The acts of animal cruelty here were devastating, but with this sentencing we can now be assured no animal will ever be harmed by those responsible again. This is testament to the hard work and perseverance of all agencies involved, and we are grateful to them all for helping bring these individuals to justice.”
*A second person was jailed in October 2021 for causing unnecessary suffering to two horses and one goat, and failing to meet the needs of 171 animals including 131 horses, 33 dogs, two alpacas and five birds.