- RSPCA ordered the killing of 11 healthy horses after they were rescued
- Several horses were described as ‘doing ok’ but were still shot days later
- The charity then claimed thousands of pounds for stabling expenses
The RSPCA ordered the killing of 11 healthy horses after they were rescued from appalling conditions, despite the fact some could have been rehomed, a Mail on Sunday investigation can reveal.
Astonishingly, Britain’s largest animal charity had the horses shot – but went on to claim thousands of pounds for stabling expenses as well as veterinary bills for animals which were already dead, leaked documents show.
The scandal is the latest in a series of controversies to engulf the charity, which critics say has lost sight of its core mission to protect animals.
In total, 12 out of 14 horses were killed after being ‘signed over’ to the ownership of the RSPCA when they were rescued from a farm in Lancashire in March 2013, raising fears that it is now the charity’s policy to kill large numbers of such horses.
Our investigation revealed that:
- Four were put down shortly after being rescued from the farm, despite veterinary assessments diagnosing them with no life-threatening conditions.
- Most were killed after they were assessed by a vet as being ‘bright, alert and responsive’.
- Of 14 horses signed over to the RSPCA’s care, only two were rehomed – the rest dispatched by a slaughterman’s bullet.
- A mare was shot on arrival after breaking its leg while being transported to a ‘rescue yard’ by the RSPCA.
- The charity then claimed £200,000 in prosecution costs, which included more than £10,000 in spurious stabling charges, but later withdrew the claim, blaming an administrative error.
- In several cases, the charity claimed more than 100 days’ costs for stabling some of the horses – although they were already dead.
An independent vet who has seen the evidence in our disturbing dossier confirmed none of the horses’ conditions justified euthanasia.
Even the man who shot the horses for the RSPCA told the MoS: ‘Some of those horses could have been rehomed, but I was told I wasn’t allowed to. I could have rehomed four of them.’ Last night the RSPCA insisted the horses had ‘no realistic prospect of being rehomed’ at the time, yet the MoS saw ample evidence that horse-lovers were desperate to give the animals a loving home.
Last week in an online chat forum for the Arab Horse Society, one member told how, after repeated enquiries to the RSPCA, she was told no information could be given about the horses because of the Data Protection Act.
And a woman describing herself as a previous owner of one of the horses wrote that she intended to write to the RSPCA although she feared ‘my poor mare is long gone’.
Another user wrote: ‘Is there a suggestion that the RSPCA have destroyed horses who could have recovered with good care and decent food? Something truly stinks in this whole case.’
In all, 31 horses and seven dogs were removed from the farm of project manager Rachelle Peel, near Clitheroe.
No caring person would question the RSPCA’s intentions in rescuing the animals or prosecuting their owner. Six dead horses and skeletons were found around the fields at Brookhouse Green Farm and horses and dogs were found in filthy conditions.
After a lengthy trial, Peel, 56, was convicted of four offences of animal neglect. The court heard the animals’ welfare had suffered after her husband was diagnosed with dementia and she was fined £2,200 with £8,000 costs at Blackburn Magistrates’ Court earlier this month.
But it is what happened in the days following the raid on the farm – and particularly the fate of the 14 horses which Peel ‘signed over’ ownership of to the RSPCA – which will raise serious concern among animal lovers.
Only two horses were rehomed. The rest were dispatched by the slaughterman’s bullet after, according to the RSPCA, ‘assessing the welfare and temperament of the horses and the likelihood of them being able to be rehomed, given that over 800 equines in the RSPCA’s care at that time were also needing new homes’.
The first to die, a mare named Taz, broke her leg while being driven to the livery stables in Whenby, North Yorkshire, run by Adrian Cooper Wilson, 54.
She was shot by Mr Wilson after her injury was discovered shortly before midnight on the day of the raid.
Mr Wilson, who describes himself on his website as an ‘animal communicator, healer and reiki master’ – but fails to mention he is also a licensed slaughterman – then shot ten more of the horses within a month. The last to die, a bay Arab gelding called Pip, was despatched on June 26.
Yet when the case came to trial this year, the RSPCA initially tried to claim more than £200,000 in costs from Peel. They submitted hundreds of documents in support of their claim, suggesting either spectacular incompetence or something worse.
The example of one horse, Cresh, a 16-year-old grey Arab stallion, shows a pattern repeated over and over.
the horses were taken to stables approved by the RSPCA. On arrival at the Equine Support Centre in Whenby run by Mr Wilson, Cresh was examined by a vet with seven other horses, four days after arriving.
On an official form, the vet described the horse’s condition as: ‘BAR [bright, alert, responsive], quiet. Unshod, slight splaying, overgrowth on all 4 feet. Rainscald [a skin disease caused by bacteria] over dorsum [upper side].’ The diagnosis was not ideal, but treatable.
It added: ‘Feet need trimming, passport note to say mechanically lame after hoof injury in 2005.’
Cresh was given wormer and other treatment, with a charge of £65.70. But the next day he was shot by Cooper Wilson, who told the court he was ‘ordered’ to do so by the RSPCA.
But while Cresh’s stabling lasted just five days, the RSPCA Animal Welfare Database claimed he had been stabled for 106 days, at a charge of £13.20 a day, totalling £1,399.20.
The RSPCA documents also contained another claim for worming treatment for Cresh, costing £16.44, supposedly dispensed on August 13 – almost five months after Cresh had been killed. The total in the documents we have seen for false stabling charges alone is well over £10,000.
The RSPCA said there was a ‘difference of opinion’ with Mr Wilson about the suitability for rehoming of the horses he didn’t want to shoot.
When we showed our dossier to Norfolk vet Colin Vogel, who has frequently testified in defence cases against the RSPCA, he said: ‘The contemporaneous notes do not suggest any of the horses had a veterinary problem that required euthanasia. Two horses were difficult to handle, but that is a completely different matter.
‘Horses had overgrown feet that were not causing lameness, but that would not justify euthanasia.’
During the court case, another vet, Peter Green, appearing as an expert witness on behalf of the RSPCA, expressed surprise at the case of Midge, the second horse to die, who according to the RSPCA vet was ‘very hard to handle’.
Mr Green told the court: ‘I am surprised Midge was killed in the way she was.’ The RSPCA was accused in court of trying to keep the death of the horses secret – even during the trial.
An internal spreadsheet was repeatedly exhibited, but a column showing that the horses had been put to sleep (PTS) was not shown until midway through the trial after much questioning about the fate of the horses.
In her notebook, RSPCA inspector Kat Hamblin, 36, who had led the original raid to rescue the animals, refers to a telephone call on March 28 with the centre where horses Heron, Pip and Anna were sent: ‘Doing ok. Their vet has also examined. Unsure of rehoming prospects for HS9 [Anna] as grumpy temperament.’ Five days later, Heron and Anna were shot. Miss Hamblin also told Peel’s solicitor in May 2013, when 11 of the 12 signed over animals were dead, that the animals were ‘improving in our care’.
Challenged in court, she said she was referring to animals owned by the family which had not been signed over to the RSPCA.
The RSPCA said the ‘erroneous’ stabling fees were due to an ‘administrative error’. It added: ‘When the error was highlighted… [the RSPCA] decided not to make a claim for any boarding fees… The care of animals rescued by the RSPCA is of utmost importance to us.’
And the invoices from Howells Veterinary Services in Easingwold were ‘allocated to the incorrect horses due to an administrative error’ said the charity, on the firm’s behalf. An RSPCA spokesman added yesterday: ‘The accusation that the RSPCA tried to keep the fate of the horses secret is strongly refuted.
‘The inspector was cross-examined on her conversation on March 28 with the Peels and explained under oath that her comments related to the animals still owned by the Peels. The issue referred to about the spreadsheets was also fully dealt with at the trial.’
The spokesman added: ‘In his judgment, District Judge Clarke commented, ‘This was an expansive investigation and the amounts of records and documentary evidence was huge. Record keeping was not perfect and some documents were not retained as they should have been. I am not satisfied that there was any bad faith in this investigation, merely shortcomings and human error.’ ‘
Last night, Tory MP Sir Edward Garnier called for an inquiry into the revelations, adding: ‘The RSPCA needs to provide all the documents relating to these shootings and they need to provide a full, frank and urgent explanation.’
Mrs Peel’s daughter Evie, 20, who was not implicated in the neglect, said: ‘When I found out during the trial that so many of the rescued horses had been shot by the RSPCA and looked through the documents I was horrified.’