‘String of ineptitudes’ claim about RSPCA investigation

Chichester Magistrates' Court
Chichester Magistrates' Court

THE RSPCA was ‘blinkered’ as it sought to prove a family was guilty of causing animal suffering, a court has heard.

Colin Cartwright, 63, of Oakwood Close, Tangmere, and his twin daughters Helen and Kathryn Cartwright, 21, of Pagham Road, Bognor Regis, and Rosvara Avenue, Westergate, all deny causing unnecessary suffering to horses in their care.

This week at Chichester Magistrates’ Court, defence lawyers accused the RSPCA of failing to meet the standards expected when conducting a criminal investigation.

Magistrates agreed and an RSPCA inspector’s evidence of interviews with the defendants was discounted from proceedings.

Harry MacDonald, representing Helen Cartwright, said some of the RSPCA’s evidence was ‘inadmissible’ and should be thrown out.

“Generally, we say this whole interview process is unfair,” he said.

“The reason we say that is because either deliberately or accidentally – but really there’s such a string of ineptitudes here that it’s difficult to see it as accidental – the RSPCA have fostered an atmosphere of ignorance that surrounds this process among the defendants.”

Specific criticisms centred on claims the defendants were not made aware of the seriousness of the interviews undertaken by RSPCA inspector Rebecca Carter.

Mr McDonald told the bench: “Rebecca Carter – chief investigating officer – closed her mind to potential innocence of these defendants minutes after she arrived at the scene.

“That tainted her from the first minute.”

Kathryn Cartwright’s defence counsel Sara-Lise Howe told Miss Carter: “You’re blinkered aren’t you to prove that somebody’s guilty as soon as you enter a field?”

Miss Carter denied the claim, saying she was a trained investigator who had covered many horse cases over the past ten years.

“I’ve never experienced anything like this horse that I saw on this day.”

Giving evidence, Colin Cartwright said there was no indication when he spoke to Miss Carter of wrongdoing that could result in prosecution. “We tried to do our very best for the horses,” he said.

The family deny four charges each of causing unnecessary suffering to an animal after seven horses – three of which had to be put down – were found in a cold, muddy field off the Orchard Caravan Park, Chichester Road, Bognor Regis, in February, 2013.

They also deny a string of charges for failing to ensure the animals’ welfare.

The trial has now been scheduled to continue in March next year after it overran its expected seven-day time slot with the defence case yet to start.

Read an earlier report from the trial here: Family in court over horse neglect.

See next week’s Observer (November 6), for the magistrates’ comments on the ruling.