Man jailed after more than 170 animals rescued in UK’s ‘biggest rescue mission’

A man has been jailed after 170 animals were found living in poor conditions on a Surrey farm in one of the UK’s biggest ever animal rescue operations.

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.

This week, a man was jailed at Guildford Crown Court 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.

Rescuers who arrived at the scene discovered two starving ponies, suffering from cyathostominosis (a disease caused by parasites) 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 by failing to provide:

  • A suitable environment free from hazards that could cause injury and pain such as metal, plastic, splintered wood and unsafe fencing and barriers;
  • A constant supply of clean drinking water for each animal.

  • Adequate parasitic treatment or control.

  • Access to adequate nutrition.

  • Treatment for or prevention of illness, pain and disease such as eye infection and salmonella, thrush, diarrhoea, giardia, campylobacter.

  • Routine dental care.

  • Routine farrier / hoof / nail trimming and attention.

  • Treatment or veterinary attention for lameness.

  • A clean, comfortable, dry resting place.

  • Adequate space for animals that need to be apart from each other.

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.

‘Huge’ rescue mission

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 Bransby Horses, Redwings, The Horse Trust, The Donkey Sanctuary, World Horse Welfare and RSPCA centres for care and rehabilitation.

RSPCA Special Operations Unit case officer Kirsty Withnall – who coordinated the huge rescue mission and led the investigation – said: “The RSPCA and World Horse Welfare officers had received complaints about the farm and had been looking into these concerns and gathering evidence.

“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.

“We had to have a plan in place that would allow us to remove a large number of animals on the day but we hoped that wouldn’t be necessary and had no idea what action would be taken until vets were able to assess all of the animals.”

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 sadly died.

Twenty foals were 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.

Inspector Withnall added: “The reason I do my job is because I care passionately about animals and I’ll be overjoyed when all of these animals are in loving homes being given the care, love and attention they deserve.”

On Friday (15 October), Geoffrey John Bennett of Portsmouth Road, Ripley, was jailed for 19 weeks and disqualified from keeping all animals (including keeping, participating in the keeping of and dealing) for life having previously pleaded guilty to a number of offences** including two Animal Welfare Act offences relating to 131 horses, 33 dogs, two alpacas and five birds, as well as six offences of failing to dispose of animal by-products.

Sentencing Bennett, 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.