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Man Jailed after UK’s ‘biggest rescue mission’

A man has been jailed for 19 weeks and given a lifetime ban from keeping animals after 170 animals were found living in poor conditions on a Surrey farm in one of the UK’s biggest ever animal rescue operations.

The Horse Trust was one of the many charities involved in this lengthy and heart-wrenching case, providing support and taking in 15 of the most critical and sickest equines rescued. We will be sharing more details of our rescued equines shortly; it was an incredibly emotional and distressing case.

On 9 January 2019, Surrey Police executed a warrant at a farm in Ripley, Surrey, as part of an RSPCA-led investigation into concerns for the welfare of horses at the site.

Rescuers who arrived at the scene discovered two starving ponies in one pen and a goat collapsed in another. In court, their owner admitted to failing to provide them with enough nutritious food or seek vet treatment for them. Sadly, all three animals were put to sleep at the scene on the advice of vets to prevent them from further suffering.

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 with donkeys, goats, alpacas and ponies; many of them standing on top of 2ft-3ft of months worth of waste and faeces. Many were skinny and had underlying 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.

The owner admitted to animal welfare charges including causing unnecessary suffering to two collapsed ponies and one collapsed goat, and not meeting the needs of more than 100 others. He also pleaded guilty to a number of charges in relation to disposal of animal by-products after bones and skeletons were also found at the farm, buried among muck or wrapped in rugs.

A total of 204 animals were discovered at the site. While three were sadly put to sleep at the scene, the rest (201) were taken for appropriate 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 a number of charities, including The Horse Trust, for care and rehabilitation.

RSPCA Special Operations Unit case officer Kirsty Withnall – who coordinated the huge rescue mission and led the investigation – said: “This was a huge multi-agency rescue mission which was the culmination of weeks of planning and evidence gathering. In total, there were 100 staff from different agencies working on the case to help round up the animals. It took almost 12 hours on the day to assess all of the animals, load them into horse boxes and animal ambulances, and move them off-site; making it one of the biggest coordinated rescue missions the UK has ever seen.”

Jeanette Allen, CEO at The Horse Trust, said: “We all had our particular roles on the day. The Horse Trust is based relatively nearby, compared to partner charities, and so our focus was on the sickest horses. Many were taken by us directly to a leading equine hospital. Even with the best intensive treatment, some of those didn’t make it, although they were at least given every chance and were properly cared for at the end. Those that did pull through continue to receive ongoing treatment for underlying medical issues and rehabilitation.”

Sentencing the man, the court recorder took into account his guilty plea, age and health problems, but noted the severity of the offences and felt only an immediate jail term was appropriate. The judge also ordered that he receive 12 months supervision on release from prison. He said: “They will show you responsibility and care [in prison] many times greater than you showed the animals in your care.”

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