A Surrey woman who failed to care for more than 200 animals has been handed a suspended prison sentence and lifetime animal ban after she lost her appeal, following “one of the biggest animal welfare operations ever in the UK”.
The 61 year old woman from Ripley, appealed her sentence after she was found guilty of 15 offences under the Animal Welfare Act* following a trial over dates in June and August in 2022.
She was found guilty of failing to meet the needs of 131 equines after not providing a suitable environment, including a water supply, adequate nutrition, routine dental or farrier care, or adequate parasitic treatment or control. She was also convicted of causing unnecessary suffering to a number of horses, dogs and goats.
The defendant had claimed throughout the investigation she was not responsible for all of the animals who were found on-site and subsequently launched an appeal.
The appeal hearing took eight days at Guildford Crown Court between June 12 and June 20 this year. And on June 23 her appeal was dismissed by a judge.
She was sentenced to six months of prison – suspended for two years (this was on each charge to run concurrently) and was disqualified from keeping all animals for life – which can not be appealed for 10 years. She was ordered to pay a victim surcharge of £122 and a deprivation order of the remaining animals in charity care was made – which means they can now be rehomed.
Surrey Police executed a warrant at a farm in Ripley, Surrey, on January 9, 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.
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 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 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, five goats, four chickens, three alpacas and one duck.
Some of the sickest animals needed 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.
RSPCA special operations unit case officer Kirsty Withnall, who coordinated the huge rescue mission and led the investigation, said: “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 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. But we were left shocked at the conditions these poor animals had been kept in.
Happy endings and ongoing treatment
Emma Carter, executive director of equine welfare here at Bransby Horses said: “These horses have been some of the most challenging 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.
“Thankfully Tarbert’s story is different, he is one of the lucky ones. Following the rescue, we nursed his mother Tamar back to health so Tarbert was born a healthy and happy foal just two months later. He is now a much loved character who enjoys the affection of our team and cantering around the fields at Bransby Horses. His reality would have been bleak had we all not been able to act.”
PC Hollie Iribar from Surrey Police said: “As one of the rural and wildlife crime officers for Surrey Police, I have witnessed some horrific acts of animal cruelty over the years. This was one of the most upsetting cases I’ve been a part of, the sites of that day and the following investigation will never leave me. I am grateful to the RSPCA and our other partner agencies for the hard work we all put in to bring this case to trial.”
Lead Councillor for Regulatory and Democratic Services at Guildford Borough Council, Cllr Merel Rehorst-Smith, said: “This early morning operation at Hurst Farm in Ripley, near Guildford, was by far the most harrowing operation for us to have been part of. A total of 201 various animals were removed. It was non-stop for 14 hours. The charities and individuals involved with this dealt with all the animals with care, confidence and compassion. The operation was efficient and effective in terrible conditions for both animals and people. It’s something we hope never happens again.”