A Rothwell man has been given a suspended jail term after pleading guilty to causing unnecessary suffering to transported sheep.
Thomas Lomas, 69, a director of Channel Livestock Ltd, admitted two counts of not providing a safe environment for transport of the animals.
Dozens of sheep suffered broken and dislocated bones after being trapped in the Channel Livestock lorries in which they were being transported to continental Europe in 2012, and had to be put down.
Many were also suffering from conditions such as foot rot in an incident described as “horrendous” by the RSPCA.
The French drivers of the lorries – which were discovered by officials at Ramsgate port in Kent – did not appear in court and did not enter pleas. They were found guilty of the two charges in their absence. Sentencing was adjourned to allow them to make personal representations in court.
RSPCA officers described the case as “the most awful” of their working lives.
Lomas originally denied the charges in a case brought by Kent Trading Standards, but after losing an application this week for acquittal on the grounds of an abuse of process and another point of law, changed his plea to guilty.
Dover Magistrates Court handed Lomas a six-month prison sentence, suspended for two years on each offence, each of which will run concurrently. He was ordered to pay £5,000 costs to Kent County Council (KCC) Trading Standards plus a £15 victim surcharge.
Channel Livestock, which also pleaded guilty to two counts, was fined £4,000 with £10,000 costs plus a £15 victim surcharge.
Gavin Grant, chief executive of the RSPCA, said: “The RSPCA is pleased that justice has now been done and that the horrific nature of this trade has been exposed. It’s time this dire trade was examined by Parliament.
“The 40 sheep that died that day were badly let down by all those responsible for them. They were loaded into a dangerous lorry and trapped their legs causing broken and dislocated bones.
“When vets examined the flock they discovered many more not fit to travel because they were suffering from painful conditions such as foot rot.
“It is clear that if you are a trader or transporter you have a legal obligation and strict liability to ensure the welfare of your animals is guaranteed and unless a trader is able to do this it is better for the them to go with the carcass trade.”.
“This case shows that even in a journey lasting a matter of hours sheep can suffer injuries and the vehicle used here was clearly inadequate as so many sheep had their limbs trapped and suffered horrendously.
“RSPCA inspectors on duty that day had to deal with the horrors of putting these poor sheep out of their misery. They described it as the most awful day of their working lives but I’m pleased their actions were commended by vets present on the day and that they have received unwavering support from the community. Our inspector’s compassion, professionalism and dedication has been vindicated.
“The live export trade is inherently cruel and we will redouble our efforts to stop it. If meat needs to go to the continent then it should be on the hook, not on the hoof.”
David Bowles, the RSPCA’s head of external affairs, added: “We welcome the judgement by District Judge Justin Barron that hauliers have strict liability for the welfare of the animals they are transporting. If the animals are injured they are responsible.
“We believe it is absolutely right that the buck stops with the very people who are making money out of this misery.
“We hope this conviction sends out a very strong message to the handful of farmers and hauliers involved in live exports that welfare of animals is paramount. There now needs to be an urgent review by the Efra (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) Select Committee of MPs into this whole trade.”
KCC Trading Standards manager Mark Rolfe said: “We brought this case because live animal exports is a trade in which the people involved have a duty to take proper care of the animals involved, and when we are aware that this does not happen, we take appropriate action.
“We are totally independent of any other agencies or organisations with an interest in this case, including Thanet Council, the RSPCA and the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency.
“Our only concern is the enforcement of the regulations relating to the condition and treatment of the animals and the transportation used.
“We brought this prosecution because of failings by the operators in this case and are satisfied with the outcome.”