Why a family of three were acquitted of all charges and the RSPCA criticised.

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Why a family of three were acquitted of all charges and the RSPCA criticised.

Post  Admin on Sun Aug 17, 2014 7:27 pm

Mrs Sheila Hocking, a woman in her late 60s and her two children, Richard (31) and Rosetta (25) were prosecuted by the RSPCA for offences contrary to section 9 of the animal welfare act in respect of rabbits kept as pets at their home.


They had earlier been prosecuted successfully by the RSPCA for offences contrary to section 4 & 9 of the AWA in respect of horse, cats and dogs.


They are a family who, rather than be prosecuted, need advice to assist them with their love and desire to care for animals. They are extremely disadvantaged. Both children, although adults, suffer from physical and mental disabilities. Richard has the mental age of nine and Rosetta is registered blind. Mrs Hocking is elderly and infirm and has considerable difficulties with mobility.


They live in accommodation, which is their own, but live somewhat unconventionally, living a life some would describe as hoarders and they find it very difficult to throw things away and therefore their home is full of possessions, clothes, furniture, etc. However, we cannot as a society sit in judgement on the way they live.


They kept rabbits in the house, in appropriate cages, there was evidence of them receiving adequate hard feed and fresh fruit and vegetables every day and there was adequate space for them to be exercised. The RSPCA however seized all the animals, leaving them with nothing. Children who are so disadvantaged, it cannot be overstated the importance of animals to stimulate and develop and to improve their disadvantages they suffer as a result of their disability.


In interview, Mrs Hocking accepted full responsibility for the animals, their day-to-day care and their needs. The RSPCA still chose to prosecute the children, notwithstanding the fact of Richard’s disability and Rosetta’s blindness and the fact that at that time, she was only spending weekends at home.


Quite rightly, the District Judge dismissed all the charges against the children at half-time, it was argued by our Mr Weller for Richard Hocking that to be liable under section 9, the prosecution had to prove that he was responsible, his age and what he did, his disability and involvement or lack of with the animals negated against responsibility and combined with his mother’s admission, meant that there was no evidence to find him culpable. This evidence was available to the prosecution before the case started, but the RSPCA still continued with the prosecution against all three.


The same arguments applied to Rosetta, although bearing in mind her disabilities, it was felt prudent that she was represented by separate Counsel, Mr Christopher Prior of Westgate Chambers, who made a similar successful submission for Rosetta, which was upheld by the District Judge.

The case against Sheila Hocking, represented Miss Sara-Lise Howe of Westgate Chambers when past half-time, because of the admissions she made in interview. However, the District Judge found that on the merits of the case, the prosecution’s case failed and she was acquitted of both offences.

In the Sunday Telegraphs on Sunday, 30th June it clearly criticised the RSPCA in prosecuting those disadvantaged members of the community, namely children and elderly persons, both case that we dealt with, the case of Shepherd and Johnson, were a 15yr old was prosecuted with her mother for leaving puppies in a run in the garden and left them for half a day and upon whom there was a shower of rain. Both the mother and daughter returned home from work and school to deal with the animals that had basically got wet in the shower but were otherwise perfectly okay. Notwithstanding the fact the clients were home, the RSPCA had unlawfully entered the client’s property and seized, again we say unlawfully, the puppies. The RSPCA Inspector was then able to persuade a Police Officer, who had been requested to attend, to seize the animals, which were then removed away from their mother. A ridiculous situation, where no offences had been committed, where the animals should have been left with their rightful owner and where if the RSPCA had concerns, advice could be given, which would have saved many thousands of pounds for the charity in respect of the costs of the prosecution and in keeping the puppies, which of course had grown into dogs when they were handed back after both client’s were acquitted. In fact the District Judge, who heard the case, dismissed the case against the 15yr old at half-time stating that he didn’t even wish to hear from the defence and that this was a prosecution that should never, ever have been brought against this child. Her mother agave evidence and was acquitted on the basis that she had behaved reasonably in all the circumstances. It was bright sunshine when she left for work in the morning and that this was just a temporary shower that was not foreseen.


This case shows how section 9 is a poorly worded piece of legislation and that a charge can be brought even when the animals were perfectly okay and do not suffer in any way. The prosecution do not have to prove suffering under section 9. The question must be asked, if the animal does not suffer, how can it be said that its needs are not being met? It has therefore become an easy charge to raise and extremely difficult to defend, because it is so subjective.


The other significant aspect of this case was the emotional effect it had for both clients, who once again suffered abuse and vilification as a result of the prosecution. At one stage, our clients were so distraught at trial; they could not find the courage to enter the Court room as they were so frightened about the wrongful allegations being made against them.


The other case reported in the Sunday Telegraph was the case of Mrs Langley, an elderly woman, who was a ward of the Court of Protection. Who looked after every waif and stray in her village, to the determent of her own health and the condi8tion of her property? Her neighbours were not aware of the conditions she was living in (which were dammed by the RSPCA to be unfit for any animal), yet when the animals were seized, she was left in situ, without any help and with the removal of the only thing that was important in her life, her animals. Again this was a case where she should not have been prosecuted, her position should have been investigated, Social Services should have been notified, and most importantly, the Court of Protection who were responsible for managing her affairs, because she was not deemed competent to do so. In the end, to be fair to the RSPCA, when they realised that she was a ward of the Court of Protection, a sympathetic view was taken by them and a satisfactory outcome was reached.


This quite clearly shows the RSPCA do have the capacity to understand a person’s position, but in our view, are far too anxious to prosecute. The prosecution however ironically had a satisfactory outcome for our client as it alerted her friends in the village, in particular one lady that singlehandedly turned our client’s situation round, rallying the troops in the village to repair and redecorate the house, wake the Court of Protection up to release funds and the RSPCA had no problems with allowing her to have her animals back.
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