A 67-year-old man who ‘showed no remorse’ after failing to meet the needs of 171 animals on a farm by keeping them in ‘disgraceful’ conditions has been imprisoned, a court has heard.
Geoffrey Bennett, of Portsmouth Road in Ripley, will spend 19 weeks behind bars having been sentenced on Friday (October 15) for offences committed at Hurst Farm.
The Guildford Crown Court hearing was the culmination of what the RSPCA is describing as ‘one of the UK’s biggest animal rescue operation’ after a raid on January 9, 2019 found alpacas, horses, goats, dogs and birds living in filthy and cramped conditions.
Goats and alpacas were found inside two barns at Bennett’s farm in Surrey – alongside donkeys and ponies – standing on top of 2ft to 3ft of months’ worth of muck and faeces
Dozens of dogs – some heavily pregnant and others with tiny puppies in tow – were discovered in varying levels of squalor, with some chained and tethered on the yard and others in dirty pens
The RSPCA said it took nearly 12 hours to round up all the animals from Bennett’s farm and assess them all properly, describing it as ‘one of the biggest coordinated rescue missions the UK has ever seen’
A dog stands on its hind legs, pining to get out of its grimy enclosure
The inside of one dog’s mouth reveals severe tooth loss and decay, evidence of Bennet having failed to provide adequate dental care for the animal
Makeshift enclosures served as prison kennels for the dogs on Bennet’s farm
Filthy enclosures housed dogs in deplorable conditions, with dozens of canines kept chained up and others locked away in filthy makeshift kennels
Another of Bennett’s dogs, this one kept in an extremely cramped transport cage
Bennett, a dealer of low value horses and donkeys, pleaded guilty to two offences under the Animal Welfare Act (causing unnecessary suffering to two horses and one goat and failing to meet the needs of 171 animals) as well as six offences of failing to properly dispose of animal by-products.
Rescuers discovered two starving ponies, suffering from cyathostominosis, in one pen and a goat collapsed in another in the January warrant.
All three animals were euthanised on the farm to prevent them from further suffering.
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 with donkeys, goats, alpacas and ponies, many of them standing on top of 2ft to 3ft of months’ worth of waste and faeces.
Dozens of dogs, some heavily pregnant and others with tiny puppies in tow, were found chained and tethered on the yard, while others were shut inside small cages or makeshift kennels.
During the raid, ‘bones and carcasses’ were discovered wrapped in horse rugs on a muck heap including ‘one equine [carcass]’, prosecutor Hazel Stevens told the court.
Bone samples were collected for analysis and according to Ms Stevens, a goat leg was also found.
A video showing upsetting scenes of what the RSPCA discovered upon executing the warrant was played in court as Bennett watched on.
A dog pictured behind the grate of a filthy cage pictured during the RSPCA’s rescue mission
Rescuers discovered two starving ponies, suffering from cyathostominosis (a parasitic condition in the large colon and resulting in watery diarrhoea)
Rescuers said Bennett had failed to provide adequate hoof care for his equines, which were left to stand on wet and filthy hay
This dog was found in a dingy room in a makeshift, grotty kennel
A total of 204 animals were discovered at the site.
While three were put down at the scene, the 201 others were taken away for care. They were 129 horses and donkeys, 59 dogs, three alpacas, five goats, four chickens and one duck.
Despite receiving urgent treatment, 14 horses who were weak, emaciated, with worm burdens and suffering from cyathostominosis died or were put down afterwards, according to the RSPCA.
Despite the best efforts of charities to save them, two dogs and one goat had to be put down, and one chicken and one duck died.
Twenty foals were born in charity care, two of which were stillborn, as well as six goat kids, one alpaca and nine puppies – but two died shortly after birth.
Defending, Michael Fullerton said Bennett was retired and had ‘no intention’ of going back to farming.
He added: ‘In respect of the general condition of the farm, December 2018 and January 2019 were particularly wet.
‘The areas with significantly muddy tracks, that was because tractor would go through to spread the hay for the horses. Muddy yes, but food was available for those in the field.’
Having already entered a guilty plea, on Friday Bennett was sentenced for causing unnecessary suffering to two horses and one goat, failing to meet the needs of 171 animals and six counts of failing to properly dispose of animal by-products.
Recorder Darren Reed said: ‘I watched the video. One doesn’t have to be an expert or have 20/20 vision to see the disgraceful conditions in which you were keeping the animals.’
He said the case fell in the high culpability bracket because of the ‘prolonged neglect in a commercial context.’
Recorder Reed said there was no doubt the animals were caused ‘a high level of suffering’.
In relation to the charges of failing to dispose of animals’ bodies, Recorder Reed said: ‘I consider this was a deliberate failure to abide by the regulations in a commercial context.’
He gave credit to Bennett’s guilty plea and noted the defendant’s medical conditions.
However, having read the probation officer’s report Recorder Reed said: ‘You have accepted no responsibility nor expressed anything resembling remorse. You hold an attitude of general indifference in relation to the welfare of animals and there is not a realistic prospect of rehabilitation in your case.’
Bennett was jailed for 19 weeks and disqualified from keeping all animals, including participating in the keeping of and dealing of animals, for life.
Bones and carcasses of animals – including a horse – were found concealed in horse rugs and strewn on a muck heap
In the January 2019 raid, rescuers found a goat that had collapsed from poor health
Dogs were found living in squalid enclosures and in lamentable states of health
Some dogs were enclosed in severely restricted cages without access to food and water
Two of Bennett’s dogs look curiously at their saviours from the RSPCA
The remains of heavily decayed animals were found on the farm, showing Bennett’s indifference to the presence of fallen, rotting animals
Handing the sentence, Recorder Reed said: ‘[In prison] you will be shown considerable care, many times greater than you showed for the animals in your care.’
RSPCA special operations unit case officer Kirsty Withnall, who coordinated the huge rescue mission and led the investigation, told Horse & Hound the massive rescue mission required 100 staff from different agencies.
She said: ‘The RSPCA and World Horse Welfare officers had received complaints about the farm and had been looking into these concerns and gathering evidence,’ she said.
‘This was a huge multi-agency rescue mission, which was the culmination of weeks of planning and evidence gathering.
‘It took almost 12 hours on the day to assess all of the animals, load them into horseboxes and animal ambulances, and move them off-site; making it one of the biggest coordinated rescue missions the UK has ever seen.
‘We had to have a plan that would allow us to remove a large number of animals on the day but we hoped that wouldn’t be necessary and had no idea what action would be taken until vets were able to assess all of the animals.’
She added: ‘The reason I do my job is because I care passionately about animals and I’ll be overjoyed when all of these animals are in loving homes being given the care, love and attention they deserve.’