RSPCA defends role in Ramsgate sheep incident
THE RSPCA has defended its part in the deaths of more than 40 sheep at Ramsgate port in September after a report suggested it had a major influence on key decisions made on the day.
A timeline of events in a report on the incident by the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA) said the RSPCA objected to the agency’s original plan to move the sheep to local ‘contingency premises’ rather than unload them at the port.
The NFU has subsequently accused the RSPCA of ‘exerting significant influence over government officials on the ground’, despite having no official role at the port.
The RSPCA said the report raised ‘a number of serious questions’ as to AHVLA’s inspection regime and the adequacy of facilities at the port to cope with emergencies, which are the subject of an application made by the RSPCA for judicial review.
It said, however, that it ‘clearly states that all the key decisions on the day were taken by the competent authorities; AHVLA officers’.
The RSPCA said its inspectors were present at the port at the invitation of Thanet District Council and that, on September 12, the report shows they ‘offered assistance and advice to AHVLA officers in what were clearly difficult and testing circumstances’.
“In an emergency such as this, no one should be surprised that there were different views as to what action should be taken. However the only authority that could instruct action were AHVLA,” the RSPCA said.
The RSPCA pointed out that the transporter’s own contingency plans were not followed and that the AHVLA sought to find a suitable location within the port to unload the vehicle after other options were rules out.
The charity insisted its objection to the initial proposal that the vehicle be allowed to drive on to the contingency premises was ‘well-founded’, as AHVLA inspectors later found ‘fist sized gap between the deck floor and the shell of the vehicle’ that would have risked ‘severe injury to the animals’.
It added that the decision to destroy around 40 injured sheep at the port was taken by an AHVLA vet and the independent vet called in by the RSPCA and that the slaughter had been described as ‘humane’ by AHVLA and Farming Minister David Heath.
It said the amount of blood shown in the photographs was caused by ‘moving the dead bodies to an area where they were piled up pending collection for disposal’.
It also defended the photographs it took of the slaughter and subsequently publicised in the media.
“The photographs, while shocking, provide a visual record of the sad outcome of the day’s events and a springboard for discussion about the conditions under which this trade is operating at Ramsgate port,” the RSPCA said.
Ray Goodfellow, RSPCA chief legal officer, said: “There is a clear public interest and expectation in ensuring that the welfare of animals involved in live transport is safeguarded to the full extent that the law allows. The RSPCA will campaign to end this trade. While it exists we will continue to act to safeguard the welfare of these animals and to ensure that they receive the full protection of the law.”