A woman has been given a suspended sentence after more than 200 animals were removed by charities from a Surrey farm.
Christine June Kelly (DoB: 17/12/1961) of Portsmouth Road, Ripley, was found guilty of 15 offences under the Animal Welfare Act* after a trial over dates in June and August this year. The charges relate to more than 130 horses, as well as dogs, donkeys, poultry, and goats, although she claimed throughout the investigation that she was not responsible for all of the animals who were found on-site.
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. Rescuers discovered horses, dogs and farm animals living in poor conditions.
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 of donkeys, goats and ponies; many of them standing on top of 2ft-3ft of months worth of waste and faeces. Many were skinny and had untreated 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.
A total of 204 animals were discovered at the site. While three – two horses and one goat – were sadly put to sleep at the scene, the rest (201) were taken into charity 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.
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 also sadly died. Twenty foals were subsequently 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.
Kelly was found guilty of failing to meet the needs of 131 equines by failing to provide a suitable environment, a water supply, adequate nutrition, routine dental or farrier care, or adequate parasitic treatment or control and treatment for prevention of illness and disease. She was also convicted of causing unnecessary suffering to a number of horses, dogs and goats.
Huge rescue mission launched
RSPCA Special Operations Unit case officer Kirsty Withnall, who coordinated the huge rescue mission and led the investigation, said: “A number of complaints about the farm had been filed with the RSPCA and World Horse Welfare and, following weeks of planning and gathering evidence, Surrey Police were able to execute a warrant. More than 100 people from different agencies spent more than 12 hours assessing the animals, rounding them up and moving them to vets and rescue centres. It’s one of the biggest animal welfare operations ever in the UK.
“We had no idea what the conditions would be like until we stepped through the gates but we had to have a plan in place that would allow us to remove a large number of animals on the day, although we hoped that wouldn’t be necessary. We had no idea what we’d find or what action would be taken until all of the animals had been assessed and we were shocked at the conditions these poor animals had been kept in.”
Prosecuting on behalf of the RSPCA, Hazel Stevens said in her sentencing summary: “Generally, the premises were in a bad state, the housing for the animals was inadequate and in many cases, it presented a risk to the animals contained within the various enclosures. There was little adequate shelter, the areas were dirty and muddy, and many animals did not have access to clean, dry resting areas or water to drink. There was insufficient grazing and dangerous fences, the property posed further risk to the animals due to loose wire that had become entangled around limbs.”
Speaking after the conviction, Inspector Withnall added: “One goat found in one of the barns was severely emaciated, unable to stand and filthy; deemed to be suffering and had to be put to sleep on site.
“Dogs were found to be living in an unsuitable environment without a safe place to rest, some in crates too small for them, and some in dirty and wet kennels. Others were underweight or had serious health problems such as skin conditions, ear infections and dental disease.
“Poultry – including four chickens and a duck – were extremely hungry and thirsty, underweight and in poor health.”
One of two ‘muddy and dirty’ barns on site – both full of horses and other livestock – was described by on-site vets and investigators as ‘too small and unsafe’. Inside this barn – which housed horses and donkeys – rescuers made a shocking discovery.
Inspector Withnall added: “We found two ponies both suffering from cyathostomiasis, a disease caused by parasites, who were collapsed on top of each other. I initially thought one of the ponies was dead. Both were very weak and thin and, sadly, had to be put to sleep on site.”
A large number of horses were found out in the fields and investigators felt that none had been protected from hazards that could cause injury, and had not been provided with adequate care and nutrition.
Ms Stevens added: “Christine Kelly claimed she only owned dogs and that she took care of six horses on behalf of her grandchildren.”
But, in August, a district judge found her guilty of 15 offences: five under Section 9 – for failing to meet the needs of a number of animals at the farm – and 10 under Section 4; for causing unnecessary suffering.
Ms Stevens told the court Kelly’s culpability was high – due to the ‘prolonged neglect’ extending to over a year – and because the poor treatment of the animals was in a ‘commercial context’. She also told the court that it had caused a ‘high level of suffering’.
Kelly appeared at Staines Magistrates’ Court on Thursday (25 August) to be sentenced. She was handed a 26-week prison sentence – suspended for 18 months – as well as being disqualified from keeping all animals for life.
A deprivation order – relating to 12 dogs and seven horses – was also issued, meaning the charities can now rehome them. All other animals had previously been signed over for care by the charities or to be rehomed.
PC Hollie Iribar from Surrey Police said: “As a Rural and Wildlife Crime Officer for Surrey Police, I have witnessed some devastating acts of animal cruelty over the years. This was one of the most difficult cases I’ve seen, and I am grateful to the RSPCA and our other partner agencies for the hard work put in to bring this case to trial.
“I’m very glad that this heartbreaking case has seen a resolution in the courts, and that the animals involved were rescued and given a second chance at a happy and healthy life.”
A Buckinghamshire and Surrey Trading Standards spokesperson said: “We’re pleased this case has now been fully resolved. The acts of animal cruelty here were devastating, but with this sentencing we can now be assured no animal will ever be harmed by those responsible again. This is testament to the hard work and perseverance of all agencies involved, and we are grateful to them all for helping bring these individuals to justice.”
Tony Tyler, deputy chief executive of World Horse Welfare, said: “This was a particularly long-running and complex situation but, as access to the site had been refused, no-one knew exactly what to expect. The large number of animals involved and the state they were being kept in was shocking to the officers attending but all the agencies involved worked together incredibly well and were able to pool resources and concentrate on their areas of expertise, meaning that animals could be taken off site quickly and start receiving proper care.
“World Horse Welfare was able to take 45 of the horses and many have now been rehabilitated and found loving new homes through our rehoming programme. Due to the protracted timescale of this prosecution, however, they had been at our centres for almost two years before we could ready them for rehoming. Now that the case is finally over, the future is brighter for the animals involved.”
Bert (pictured top, before, and right, now) was rescued from one of the barns where he was found in a small pen standing on top of 2ft-3ft of months worth of waste and faeces. He was rescued and moved to Redwings.
A Redwings spokesperson said: “Bert was originally taken to the RSPCA as part of the initial rescue, but was brought to Redwings when it became clear he had ongoing veterinary requirements.
“Bert has some quite severe lameness issues in his front legs which mean he is not suitable for riding or rehoming but with medication and careful management under the close eye of Redwings vets he has been living a very quiet life with his new best friend Bellamy at one of the charity’s special care sites.”
Bransby Horses’ executive director of external welfare, Emma Carter, said: “This was one of the largest multi-agency warrants that Bransby Horses has ever been involved in and one of the most difficult for our teams to process due to the scale of the suffering and horrific conditions these animals were incarcerated in.
“These horses have been some of the most challenging that we have ever had to care for. Due to the extent of their medical and behavioural needs as a result of their neglect, some have had, and will continue to require, years of specialist care.
“Thankfully Limpopo’s story has a happy ending, which was not possible for all. But for all of the animals we’ve helped, we will remember each and every one. It’s a hard realisation to think what would happen to these animals if our supporters were not behind us to tackle cruelty like this.”
Limpopo (pictured, now) was one of 26 horses taken in by Bransby Horses. She was scared and would try to run away from people, shaking with fear. She was underweight and had sores all over the body where she’d bitten herself until she bled.
Specialist teams treated her for chronic inflammation, liver disease, intestinal damage due to untreated worms, and lice. After 18 months, she was finally back to good health. And slowly she started to trust people again; showing glimpses of her sweet and gentle personality. She was carefully matched with a loving family and is now enjoying the love, care and attention she deserves in a fabulous home.
Donkeys Heidi, Max, Lady, Mars and Karen were taken in by The Donkey Sanctuary, in East Devon. They were nervous and distrustful of people; some were extremely underweight and had severely overgrown hooves. One of the mares soon gave birth to a foal and, slowly, all of them started to trust again and are now thriving.
Hannah Bryer, Head of Welfare at The Donkey Sanctuary, said: “Working on the front line of donkey welfare, our teams are often exposed to situations where donkeys are in desperate need of our help. Cases like this are never easy but the scale of suffering and the numbers of animals in this case was particularly distressing.
“I will never forget the overwhelming feeling of sadness that I felt walking into that barn and seeing the condition of the donkeys and other animals. It was a huge challenge, but everyone worked together brilliantly in difficult conditions.
“Thanks to the amazing care of our teams, the donkeys are enjoying healthy and enriched lives. Knowing they will never experience such suffering again and will remain safe in the care of The Donkey Sanctuary is the best outcome.”
A Dogs Trust Spokesperson added: “On Wednesday 9 January 2019, we assisted the RSPCA and several other organisations in attending to animals whose welfare had been compromised at a premises in Surrey. More than 50 dogs were removed from the site and Dogs Trust staff were on hand to ensure that they were safely retrieved and transported with care to RSPCA premises in our specially equipped Animal Ambulances. The health and welfare of dogs is always our priority, and we were pleased to assist on this occasion to safely recover the dogs involved.”
Lead Councillor for Regulation and Environment at Guildford Borough Council, Cllr James Steel, said: “We were acting on information that dogs were being bred without a licence and living in poor conditions. The multi-agency operation led by the RSPCA was incredible.
“This early morning operation at Hurst Farm in Ripley, near Guildford, was by far the most harrowing operation for us to have been part of. A total of 201 various animals were removed. It was non-stop for 14 hours. The charities and individuals involved with this dealt with all the animals with care, confidence and compassion. The operation was efficient and effective in terrible conditions for both animals and people. Something we hope never happens again.
“As this case has demonstrated, the council takes animal welfare seriously. It is important that the public are aware of the conditions which some animals are kept in. Anyone looking to purchase a puppy should ensure they do so from a reputable licensed breeder. This will ensure that strict welfare standards are met.
“This case sends a strong message to unlicensed breeders who profit from keeping animals in appalling conditions. We will continue to work with partner agencies to investigate and prosecute unlicensed breeders.”