Ramsgate report raises questions about RSPCA role
AN official report into an incident which resulted in the death of more than 40 sheep at Ramsgate port claims the RSPCA ordered Government officials to unload sheep at the port.
Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA) inspectors had wanted to move the sheep to nearby contingency facilities to deal with injured animals. But, after the RSPCA deployed its lawyers to argue its case, they agreed to unload the sheep at the port.
The AHVLA’s official version of events at the Kent port on September 12 makes uncomfortable reading for both the agency and the RSPCA, highlighting the confusion between them over how to handle the incident.
The report shows how contingency plans meant to be in place for what should have been a relatively straightforward incident were thwarted at every turn. This eventually resulted in the controversial shooting of more than 40 sheep at the port, more than nine hours after a single sheep on a lorry load of 548 was identified as injured during a routine inspection. Two more sheep drowned.
NFU deputy president Meurig Raymond said the report showed RSPCA ‘appeared to have exerted significant influence over Government officials on the ground’, despite having no official role at the port.
Mr Raymond urged the RSPCA to clarify the role its inspectors are at the port to fulfil.
“It is highly concerning that, although the RSPCA has no official role at the port, from an early stage, they were making objections to agreed contingency plans, making interventions from their legal team and, within an hour of a problem being found, they had ‘instructed’ AHVLA officers to unload animals at the port, despite RPSCA previously highlighting the lack of suitable facilities for handling animals,” he said.
He also questioned the method of slaughter deployed by the RSPCA and why it took photographs and publicised the events in the media despite its ‘clear influence in the decision-making process’.
The RSPCA defended its role in the incident, insisting all the major decisions were taken by AHVLA officials and that it had been proved right to block the decision to move the animals off the premises.
How the day unfolded
The report details how, at 8.35am, AHVLA inspectors identified a sheep with a limb trapped between the deck floor and the shell of the French lorry, which had brought the sheep to the port for export to Calais on the MV Joline.
More animals were identified by AHVLA and RSPCA officials that were either injured or at risk due to trapped limbs. There were also concerns about overstocking.
The AHVLA inspectors decided that the lorry could not proceed with its journey and ‘must divert to local premises’ to rectify the problems that had been identified, including euthanising the severely injured sheep.
The contingency premises were approximately 24 miles, and 45 minutes from the port. But an RSPCA official contacted AHVLA to say he was ‘not happy’ with the decision as the vehicle was ‘not considered suitable’ and was over-stocked.
“He further instructed that any unfit animals must be unloaded at the port,” the report said.
The AHVLA warned that this was ‘not appropriate as there were no facilities at the port to unload animals’.
But at 10.45 am the AHVLA received a further call from the RSPCA official, this time in the presence of a legal adviser, who said the RSPCA was ‘not prepared to allow the use of a vehicle that was unsuitable and overstocked, to transport animals to the emergency facility’.
RSPCA inspectors also rejected a suggested to euthanise the injured animal on board the lorry because this was deemed inappropriate in front of other animals.
The AHVLA said it tried to find another vehicle to transfer some of the injured sheep away but by 11.15, aware of the need to act quickly, started making plans to unload the sheep at the port. A shed that could have been used was already in use and by 11.50 a decision was made to unload the sheep in an area used to wash lorries.
As the sheep were unloaded, AHVLA and RSPCA inspectors marked 41, in addition to two already identified, as not fit to transport as they were ‘exhibiting lameness’. AHVLA said the aim was to carry out a closer inspection once the unloading was complete.
At 12.05 the two injured were euthanised but AHVLA was still planning to move the remaining sheep, in two loads, to the contingency facilities.
But as the vehicles was being reloaded at 1.30pm AHVLA inspectors noticed a number of sheep had fallen through a drain hole into a well in the unloading area and were drowning. Four were rescued, two drowned. The sheep had dislodged a loose manhole cover.
The report then details AHVLA’s futile attempts to secure an alternative vehicle to transport the sheep away from the site and ongoing uncertainty over whether the original vehicle could be used.
By 15.45 the 41 sheep identified with ‘lameness’ were re-examined by an AHVLA vet and a private vet who agreed 37 were not fit to transport and should be euthanized on site.
“Some of these animals showed evidence of recent injury, likely to have occurred in transit, others were of a more long standing nature, caused by foot rot lesions, the lameness being exaggerated as they were penned on hard standing,” the report said.
Finally at 6pm the animals deemed unfit were slaughtered by RSPCA officials in a specially created pen. The RSPCA used a bolt gun stun the animals and a pithing rod to ensure death, and took photographs of the operation.
It was not until 1am the next day that a replacement vehicle finally arrived to transport the remaining animals away from the port. It left at 2am to return the animals to a farm in Northamptonshire.
The French drivers of the lorry were arrested on the day by Kent police after refusing to co-operate with Kent Trading Standards.
The AHVLA inquiry was ordered by Farming Minister David Heath. Mr Heath has already announced a number of measures put in place at Ramsgate to as a result of the report’s findings.
The report had been withheld from publication at the request of Kent Trading Standards until it completed its investigations into the incident.
Kent County Council has commenced criminal proceedings against a number of defendants, whose first Court appearance is scheduled for Tuesday April 2 at Canterbury Magistrates’ Court. The defendants are alleged to have loaded sheep which were unfit to travel and of transporting them in an inappropriate vehicle.