A farmer has been jailed after more than 200 animals were freed from vile conditions in what has been described as the “UK’s biggest rescue mission”.
In total, 22 animals had to be put down or died following their rescue from Geoffrey Bennett’s farm. The 68-year-old left two starving ponies suffering with disease caused by parasites and a goat that was so ill it collapsed in its pen.
All those animals were so sick they had to be put down by vets when Hurst Farm in Ripley, Surrey, was raided by police in January 2019.
Despite receiving urgent treatment, another 14 horses that had been weakened by worms and parasitic disease died. Two dogs, a goat, a chicken and a duck also died, the RSPCA said.
Officers found herds of ponies riddled with worms and living out in fields with hazardous metal underfoot and broken fencing sticking up from the thick mud.
Inside two barns were pens filled with donkeys, goats, alpacas and ponies squashed in together, standing on top of months worth of waste and faeces.
Many were malnourished and had been suffering from underlying health conditions, the RSPCA said.
Dozens of dogs - some 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” and makeshift kennels.
After being rescued, several animals were born in care of the RSPCA, including 20 foals, six goat kids, one alpaca and nine puppies. Two puppies died and two ponies were stillborn.
A total of 204 animals were discovered at the site, with 131 horses, 33 dogs, two alpacas, donkeys, goats, chickens, ducks and birds all requiring veterinary treatment.
Bennett admitted to failing to provide the stricken animals with enough nutritious food and not seeking treatment for them when they became ill.
At Guildford Crown Court, Bennett was given a 19-week jail sentence and was disqualified from owning animals for life, after admitting to a string of animal abuse offences.
He pleaded guilty to two Animal Welfare Act offences as well as six charges of failing to dispose of animal by-products after rescuers found bones and skeleton parts buried among the muck and wrapped in rugs.
Sentencing Bennett, the judge took into account his guilty plea, age and health problems, but added that due to the severity of the crimes, he had to be jailed.
Recorder Darren Reed also ordered that Bennett receive 12 months supervision on release from prison.
As he sentenced him, Recorder Reed said: “They [the prison service] will show you responsibility and care many times greater than you showed the animals in your care.”
PC Hollie Iribar, from Surrey Police, said the case was “one of the most difficult” she had ever seen.
‘One of the most difficult cases’ officers had seen
She added: “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.”
Kirsty Withnall, of the RSPCA, coordinated the rescue mission and led the investigation. 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.
“This was a huge multi-agency rescue mission which was the culmination of weeks of planning and evidence gathering. In total, there were 100 staff from different agencies working on the case to help round up the animals.
“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.”