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Judge criticises the RSPCA over non-disclosure

ANOTHER CASE brought against a dog owner by the RSPCA was thrown out of court last week, after the trial judge criticised the RSPCA prosecution team for not disclosing vital documentation relating to the case.

Dog owner Annette Nally spent five days in court and the expenditure of tens of thousands of pounds, and has now joined a growing list of respectable defendants to RSPCA private prosecutions who should ‘never have been prosecuted’, according to the pressure group SHG.
Miss Nally was being prosecuted for cruelty to her 14 year-old German Shepherd Holly, by ‘failing to provide correct medication’. The case was tried at Leamington Spa, Warwickshire by Judge David Chinnery.

Judge Chinnery’s remarks, in particular, focussed on the RSPCA’s non-disclosure of very important documents that showed the case was misconceived. The Judge found that the case had been ‘punctuated with stops and starts due to the non-disclosure of documents by the [RSPCA] that should have in my opinion been disclosed to the defence from the outset’.

The RSPCA defence counsel Mr J Cave claimed that, because it was a private prosecutor which was (apparently) ‘not used to bringing prosecutions’, it did not think that it needed to disclose documents which undermined the prosecution case in the same way as the CPS would have to.
Ernest Vine of the Self Help Group for Farmers, Pet Owners and Others experiencing difficulties with the RSPCA said: ‘We at the SHG say that that is an incredible statement. The RSPCA brings hundreds, if not thousands, of prosecutions every year (we can’t say how many, because the RSPCA, which is a private organisation, is not required to, and will not, release up-to-date accurate information).’

‘Annette Nally was, like most defendants to RSPCA prosecutions, a thoroughly decent woman. As Judge Chinnery rightly pointed out, her first taste of the courts was being prosecuted for cruelty to her pet dog. Holly, a German Shepherd dog, had been in Annette’s care for a very long time.’
It was claimed by one RSPCA Inspector, on an apparently ‘unannounced visit’ that Holly was in ‘lean condition’. Indeed, it was on this basis, and on the basis of allegedly untreated ear and bowel conditions that the RSPCA claimed Annette was cruel. However, during the trial, the RSPCA had to accept that every one of Annette’s other animals were, and had always been, in excellent condition.

According to the SHG, the RSPCA’s actions following seizure of the dog prevented documents which dramatically assisted the defence from being seen by the court and the defence until the trial was in full session. The undisclosed documents would have shown that Holly’s ears had not required any treatment at all after the RSPCA took her. Without the production of these documents, Miss Nally’s defence was harmed.

When the court required disclosure of Holly’s boarding records, the RSPCA disclosed the wrong ones, belonging to a different dog in their care, not Holly.

When Holly's notes eventually came through it became clear that there had been no treatment whatsoever for her ears. However, more than this, the routine wormers and broad-spectrum antibiotics, which the RSPCA's vets claimed had been prescribed, had never once been recorded as having been provided to the dog.

However, the disclosure Miss Nally was not told about this and only found out five months after Holly’s death. She was, like so many animal owners who have had their animals taken away, not allowed to see her dog in the RSPCA’s ‘place of safety’.

Currently, Miss Nally is still waiting for Holly’s body to be returned to her so that she can lay her to rest.

Some important quotes from the Judge David Chinnery’s findings include:

I heard evidence from Miss Annette Nally and from Mr Colin Vogel [defence vet]who were both impressive witnesses but for different reasons … Mr Vogel gave impartial and impressive evidence. I am satisfied that you [Miss Nally] are an experienced animal owner and have cared for them for many years.’

I note that Miss Nally is a lady of good character which is never a defence in itself but it supports your credibility and means you are less likely to tell untruths … I believe Miss Nally’s evidence and that she would not commit any offence, least of all offences of this kind.’

I find as a fact that Holly was a German Shepherd dog and at the top end of the scale for her age, being around 14 years old … She had a temperature of 103, which went back down to 102.5. I accept that the increased temperature at seizure could well be due to the stresses of her removal. The teeth were not perfect, but she was an old dog. The ears were red and inflamed, but did not require any treatment at all from the RSPCA after seizure .’

The prosecution submit that the test of cruelty is purely objective. The defence do not accept this and I have been referred to various cases including RSPCA v Hall, RSPCA v Isaac, RSPCA v Peterssen and RSPCA v Hussey. On the evidence, the only concern that was obvious to Miss Nally was the bowel problem but even with careful monitoring little changed.’

I am in no way persuaded that during the summonses’ period or leading up to it that Holly has suffered. People do seek veterinary advice for all sorts of reasons but I cannot find any reason why Miss Nally should have.’

‘The summonses were not laid until two days before the six month expiry period. This case has been punctuated with stops and starts due to the non-disclosure of documents by the Prosecution that should have in my opinion been disclosed to the defence from the outset. I make no criticism of Mr Cave (Prosecution counsel) personally for this failing and thank him for his efforts in ensuring these documents were [eventually] disclosed [by the RSPCA] during the trial.’

Following the case, Annette Nally broke down in tears and was unable to speak. The one piece of good news was that she was told by the Judge is that she will not have to pay the tens of thousands of pounds of costs which the RSPCA ran up in prosecuting the case.

Anne Kasica, from the SHG, said: ‘Annette is a kind and decent woman. It was, as it so often is, a pleasure to help another victim of the RSPCA in this case. So many people still do not find their way to the specialist lawyers, such as Jonathan Cairns, who we put Annette in touch with. No reasonable prosecutor would have made the serious claims against Annette that the RSPCA instructed its team of hardened specialists to make - albeit six months after the event. ‘They then claimed that they were inexperienced prosecutors and did not know the rules on disclosure. I believe that, if you ask the prosecutor where he is this week, you will find that he is on yet another cruelty case.’