Timeline for case against Cheale Meats’ employees

Posted on the 25th April 2012

March 28th & 29th 2011

Filmed inside Cheale Meats – the race area and the slaughter area.

April 27th & 28th

Filmed inside Cheale Meats – the lairage, race and stun areas.

April 4th – June 10th

Watched 100 hours of footage from Cheale Meats.

May 3rd

Emailed the FSA re the first man burning three pigs with cigarettes and two men beating the pigs around their heads.

May 5th

We uploaded a film for the FSA to see. Director of Operations at the FSA, Andrew Rhodes said; ‘we are acting on this immediately’.

May 6th

Andrew Rhodes wrote to us: ‘The two individuals are now subject to the disciplinary processes of the food business operator… I have also put additional resources into this plant to monitor and ensure animal welfare is maintained while we conduct a review of what needs to happen.’

May 10th

Put a Question to the EU regarding CCTV in slaughterhouses, as some GB governments appeared to be claiming it would not be legal.

May 13th

Uploaded and sent footage to the FSA of two more men burning pigs with cigarettes, and one punching a pig in the head.

May 17th

Andrew Rhodes wrote: ‘we are working with the FBO to identify the individuals’.

Animal Aid also wrote to the FSA to express concern over the stunning technique used and urged retraining.

May 18th

Contacted an expert at Bristol University about the smoke coming from the stun tongs.

June 1st

Formally requested the FSA initiate a prosecution, following the dragging into slaughter of a seriously injured pig. Andrew Rhodes replied: ‘Once all the footage has been reviewed we shall be in a position to advise you on how we will proceed.’

We urged them to progress expeditiously.

June 2nd

Tim Smith, Chief Executive of the FSA, said he would make sure Defra Minister Jim Paice had seen the footage.

June 14th

Andrew Rhodes wrote: ‘Defra is not prepared to commence prosecution proceedings where the initial allegation is based on CCTV footage gained without the consent of the relevant Food Business Operator.’ The FSA, therefore, decided not to investigate Cheale Meats at all.

June 16th

Animal Aid wrote to Andrew Rhodes: ‘We shall be taking legal advice, and will indeed be pursuing the matter with Defra in the hope of changing their minds.’

June 17th

We instruct solicitors to challenge the FSA’s position regarding failing to investigate Cheale Meats with a view to a prosecution.

June 27th

The EU responded saying that GB governments could make CCTV in slaughterhouses mandatory.

June 28th

Our solicitors sent a letter to the FSA challenging its decision not to investigate. They also submitted an FoI request for all matters relating to Defra’s policy.

July 6th

We spoke to Sky News about our latest investigation. They were keen to cover it.

July 7th

Defra told a Sky reporter that it did not want to waste public money bringing such cases to court.

Andrew Rhodes replied to our solicitors to say the FSA will reply fully by July 13th.

July 8th

The Veterinary Public Health Authority told us it is committed to ending these abuses.

July 14th

Andrew Rhodes wrote again to our solicitors and said the FSA will send a substantive response by July 20th.

July 22nd

The FSA responded to our letter urging it to investigate Cheale Meats. It listed all the great welfare policies of Cheale Meats and reasserted Defra’s policy not to prosecute using covert footage. We discussed this with our legal team and replied to the FSA saying we understand it’s Defra’s policy, but it is the legal advice underpinning that policy that we are challenging.

July 26th

Animal Aid’s Kate Fowler did a pre-recorded interview with Sky News ahead of the media launch date.

We got the website ready for the public, and information ready for the media. We sent a Letter to the Editor to all regional newspapers.

July 28th

We sent out our media release to all national newspapers.

Friday 29th July

The media run the Cheale Meats story

Sky News showed the footage and conducted a live interview with Kate Fowler, which is run throughout the day.
Meridian News
LBC
BBC Radio Essex
BBC Radio Birmingham
Echo, Essex
and other papers
Evening Standard
BBC Radio Kent
Telegraph – website
Daily Mail – website
Sun – website
Sky News
also blogged it

Online forums were alive with comments and discussion. Cheale Meats took its website down.

The RSPCA called to offer help, and it quickly emerged that Cheale Meats was Freedom Food approved.

By 5pm, 33,000 people had watched our 4-minute film and 8,000 had watched the 35-minute version (or part of it).

We sent the investigation to like-minded groups in the UK and overseas.

We took many, many calls and emails of support from people, including a 1970s rock star, two barristers, and a Hollywood producer.

The FSA put out a statement:

‘The Agency is setting out its actions and responsibilities following the publication of footage taken by Animal Aid at Cheale Meats in Essex. The footage shows pigs being abused and manhandled in breach of animal welfare legislation.

 

‘As soon as the Agency received filmed extracts of the abuse at the plant, the FSA revoked the licence of one of the slaughtermen identified in the footage. The other slaughterman who featured in the footage was in possession of a provisional licence, which has now expired and has not and will not be renewed. In addition, the Agency increased the level of monitoring its staff carry out at this plant, to ensure procedures were being followed correctly. The business subsequently dismissed both the slaughtermen identified in the filming from their employ.

 

‘The Agency is not responsible for prosecutions in this area. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) decided in July 2010 as a matter of policy that it would not be appropriate for Defra to rely on evidence provided by a third party that it could not obtain under its own statutory powers. Because the only evidence available was the footage submitted by Animal Aid, the FSA had to take into account Defra’s policy on this type of evidence and, therefore, decided not to submit a file to Defra to consider for prosecution.’

Defra put out a risible statement, which missed the point entirely, and – perhaps – deliberately:

The myth: Animal Aid has used undercover filming to show abuse at a slaughterhouse, and is criticising Defra for not seeking a prosecution – with the implication that the department does not care about animal welfare.
The truth: This is not true. Animal cruelty is completely unacceptable, and we vigorously pursue action wherever we can. But as Defra found in a previous prosecution based on an Animal Aid video, if the evidence has been obtained unlawfully through trespass there is very little prospect of securing a conviction.

Our barrister drafted a letter to Defra’s Caroline Spelman about our proposed judicial review of Defra’s policy decision, and wrote to the FSA to say that we would be seeking a judicial review over its failure to investigate.

Saturday 30th July

The story appeared in:
The Mirror
The Sun
The Express
Yorkshire Post
Aberdeen Press & Journal
TNT magazine (online)

Sunday 31st July

Our investigation was circulated to animal campaigners.

A well-known businessman pledged his support.

Monday 1st August

The story ran in the Colchester Gazette
We wrote an article for Politics First

By this morning, the 4-minute video had received more than 127,000 views, and the longer version 39,000.

A demo was organised at the slaughterhouse via Facebook.

An RSPCA inspector came to the Animal Aid office to pick up footage, to investigate Cheale Meats with a view to prosecuting if other authorities failed to do so.

With the FSA blaming Defra for lack of action …

‘The Agency is not responsible for prosecutions in this area. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) decided in July 2010 as a matter of policy that it would not be appropriate for Defra to rely on evidence provided by a third party that it could not obtain under its own statutory powers. Because the only evidence available was the footage submitted by Animal Aid, the FSA had to take into account Defra’s policy on this type of evidence and, therefore, decided not to submit a file to Defra to consider for prosecution.’

… Defra appeared to be blaming the FSA:

‘So far as Cheale Meats is concerned, The Food Standards Agency has not referred the case to Defra’s lawyers for a decision on whether a prosecution should be brought.’

We sent the story out in Animal Aid’s monthly e-news and took an incredible amount of emails and calls. Our supporters were doing us proud.

The RSPCA wrote in an email: ‘Whilst these incidences are totally unacceptable, Elmkirk [Cheale Meats] appear to have taken correct and swift action and in a timely fashion – as is required of our membership agreements. Freedom Food will carry out a full and thorough audit of the abattoir early this week and will then decide on any other appropriate action.’

Tuesday 2nd August

CIWF put out a statement:

‘Compassion in World Farming is appalled that Jim Paice has not responded to the extremely disturbing footage highlighted by Animal Aid and Sky News and various other media outlets on Friday 29th July 2011 which showed pigs being severely abused and mistreated in a British abattoir.

‘We are also extremely concerned that Defra was reluctant to even view the footage, let alone prosecute, when the expose was revealed due to the fact that the footage had been gained by having used trespass.’

Another barrister called and offered his services.

Following Cheale Meats’ pathetic and ludicrous response to our investigation, Animal Aid issued a statement:

Any leading crisis management consultancy will make clear that the first thing their client must do when caught in a damaging situation is to acknowledge the mistake publicly and seek to make amends. Instead of following that advice, Cheale Meats has issued a desperate and ludicrous statement in response to Animal Aid’s undercover investigation at its slaughterhouse. Astonishingly, the company alleges that the welfare breaches filmed – including pigs burnt with cigarettes and one animal being punched in the head – ‘appear to have been staged for a planted hidden camera’. It also said ‘This incident, and the illegal entry which breached our biosecurity has been placed in the hands of the police who are carrying out an investigation.’

 

In the immediate aftermath of the horrific abuses being made public, a solicitor acting for Cheale Meats claimed the company did not even think the footage was taken at their plant. Now they are saying the cruelty was staged. Despite their pathetic attempt to justify the unjustifiable, two workers have been dismissed by the company, which indicates they know full well that the men involved were responsible for the cruelties revealed. Additionally, the Food Standards Agency has revoked slaughter licences.

 

We take biosecurity very seriously and always have. Before embarking on our undercover work, Animal Aid discussed biosecurity requirements with a senior Trading Standards Officer and we remain confident that we more than comply. Compare this to Cheale Meats’ workers caught on film repeatedly smoking, coughing up and spitting around the pigs, and urinating in the animals’ pen. We will be sending a dossier of footage detailing hygiene breaches to the Food Standards Agency this week.

 

Animal Aid is a peaceful, respected national organisation. Cheale Meats should focus on getting its house in order, rather than shooting the messenger.

Wednesday 3rd August

Brentwood Gazette – named the firms that Cheales supply.
Vetsonline launched a poll, asking if Defra should prosecute Cheale Meats. By 8th August 94.29% said ‘yes’.

Cheale Meats issued a press statement saying we staged the footage. We took a handful of incredulous media calls but no one ran it.

Thursday 4th August

Essex Enquirer
Brentwood Weekly News

Defra’s standard letter to upset members of the public finally emerged.

A whistleblower called and told us that one of the sacked Cheale workers had now got a job at Romford Halal. We wrote to Romford Halal and to the FSA.

Friday 5th August

Meat Trades Journal
The Tribune
Farmers Guardian
London 24

The FSA confirmed that an ex-Cheale employee had now also been fired from Romford Halal.

The British Veterinary Association put out a statement:

‘The BVA has challenged the Food Standards Agency (FSA) to take further investigative action to enable Defra to consider prosecutions against the Essex abattoir where appalling animal welfare abuses were highlighted in footage obtained by Animal Aid. The footage shows pigs being abused and manhandled in breach of animal welfare legislation.

 

‘Commenting on this disturbing incident of animal suffering, BVA President Harvey Locke said:

 

“There must be confidence in the systems that regulate and license slaughter and the people responsible for carrying it out. I have written to the Chief Executive of the FSA outlining our concerns at the lack of any action towards prosecution.”’

We challenged the RSPCA over its soft attitude to Cheales and it confirmed it had dismissed Cheales from its Freedom Food scheme.

9th August

The Lady

We wrote to Jim Paice (Defra) and Andrew Rhodes (FSA) asking, since Cheales had CCTV, why not use that film to prosecute?

10th August

Romford Recorder

A demo was held at Cheale Meats, organised by Essex Animal Defenders. Around 30 people attended.

We contacted Craig Kirby at the FSA to draw his attention to a pig we had photographed at Cheale Meats who suffered a terrible shoulder wound, and asked him to involve local authorities to find out how a pig was left in that condition. We were later told that the pig’s farm could not be traced.

We started receiving supportive emails from MPs.

11th August

We were told by phone that the FSA would now build a case for the prosecution of Cheales.

The letter arrived the next day and said: ‘We acknowledge receipt of your letter dated 29 July 2011 pursuant to the judicial review pre-action protocol and note that the Agency has been joined as a potential defendant. This serves to inform you that the Agency has decided to carry out additional investigations into the incidents referred to us by your client which are the underlying foundation for your proposed review. At the conclusion of those investigations all available material will be forwarded to DEFRA for its determination.’

We sent 100 hours of footage, the 35-minute compilation film, and the 4-minute film by recorded delivery to the FSA’s investigator, along with some notes to help him find the relevant incidents.

The mailing to all MPs was sent out.

We sent a Letter to the Editor to all local and regional newspapers about Cheales, mentioning its poor hygiene as well as the cruelty.

12th August

Farmers Weekly – said our investigation was a ‘cruel blow’ for the pig industry.

After Defra had made a series of claims about why it could not prosecute (We had not been authorised to film under RIPA; we had not sought permission of the landowner; we had trespassed), we produced a legal briefing sheet which comprehensively debunked Defra’s claims.

We sent details and a DVD of Cheale’s dodgy hygiene practices to the FSA by mail.

Three petitions appeared on the You Gov website about Cheale’s.

A petition for vets and vet nurses was also well supported. It said:

To: British Veterinary Association, Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, DEFRA, Essex Police

 

We the undersigned veterinary surgeons and veterinary nurses are appalled by the cruelty and incompetence shown in this video. We feel the refusal to prosecute is for spurious reasons based on inertia 
and timidity rather than legal precedent.

 

We urge your organisations to make urgent representations to MPs to make the installation and routine monitoring of CCTV compulsory in all pre-slaughter areas of licensed abattoirs in the UK. Because of the presence of indisputable evidence not only will the incidence of cruelty be minimised but successful prosecution will be inevitable.

15th August

Veterinary Times – ‘Defra abattoir decision leaves VPHA frustrated’.

24th August

Essex Police called and said that they planned to interview our investigator over burglary of Cheale Meats after a complaint was made by the slaughterhouse owners that their property was damaged! Knowing we had caused no damage, we agree to co-operate fully but at the same time asked Essex Police to investigate the animal cruelty offences under the Animal Welfare Act. It did not respond.

29th August

Animal Aid’s legal team wrote to Defra to set out our plan to take them to judicial review over their policy not to prosecute.

Demo at Defra, organised by local campaigners.

1st September

Defra is stripped of its prosecution powers after Animal Aid had been lobbying for more than a year. The task now falls to the CPS. London 24, The Meat Trades Journal, Romford Recorder cover the story.

2nd September

Bristol University requested the Cheale Meats footage for training purposes.

6th September

A Defra consultation indicated that the department planned to extend the timeframe under which slaughterhouse prosecutions can be brought. This was one of Animal Aid’s key recommendations from our slaughterhouse investigation.

8th September

Animal Aid met with a sympathetic MP at Westminster.

The third Essex Animal Defenders demo took place at the slaughterhouse, and the local paper carried the story.

10th September

The FSA submitted the prosecution file on Cheale Meats.

12th September

Animal Aid attended an interesting meeting with the Food Standards Agency’s Chief Executive, Director of Legal Services and Director of Operations.

15th September

The FSA responded to our FoI request.

22nd September

Demos continued at Cheale Meats.

27th September

Having heard nothing from the FSA about the evidence of hygiene failings at Cheales, we chased it up.

30th September

We wrote to the FSA to urge it to amend its public statements to remove inaccuracies it had relayed publicly, which it swiftly did.

7th October

Our legal team started drafting a letter to Keir Starmer, the Director of Public Prosecutions with the CPS, to seek assurance that the prosecution decision is taken ‘by an independent prosecuting authority whose task is to apply the Code for Crown Prosecutors impartially, on a case-by-case basis, by reference to the evidence presented to it. That is precisely what our client is seeking to ensure by raising their concerns with you, by way of this letter, at this stage, while prosecution decisions remain pending.’

10th October

The CPS requested an additional statement from our investigator. We obliged.

24th October

We once again wrote to Essex Police to urge them to investigate the crimes. It did not respond.

1st November

Local demos continued.

8th November

Still having heard nothing from the FSA about the hygiene problems at Cheale Meats, we chased it up again.

9th November

Animal Aid’s Mark Gold wrote about Cheale Meats for Resurgence magazine.

18th November

The CPS replied to our 7 October letter: ‘I am able to confirm that the case will be the subject of a full independent review conducted in accordance with the Code for Crown Prosecutors.’

21st November

Local demos continued.

30th November

The RSPCA confirmed it had reinstated Cheale Meats onto the Freedom Food scheme.

8th December

Still having heard nothing from the FSA about the hygiene problems at Cheale Meats, we chased it up again.

13th December

We finally got the response we had been waiting for and the FSA confirmed what we already knew – that urinating around pigs and spitting into their faces is not illegal.

11th January 2012

At an Essex Animal Defenders demonstration, one of the protester’s cars was shot at. Three local papers ran the story.

16th January

We lodged an official complaint with Essex police over its failure to investigate reported crimes.

26th January

With criticism unabating, Cheale Meats invited the local paper in to ‘prove it has nothing to hide’. The boss claimed he was ‘sickened’ by what he saw, even though at the time his firm denied the slaughterhouse was theirs and then claimed we had staged the cruelty for the cameras.

5th March

Essex Animal Defenders held a demo at RSPCA HQ about the Society’s reinstatement of Cheale Meats onto the Freedom Food scheme.

7th March

Letter from Essex Police confirmed that they were seeking advice from a specialist lawyer and apologised for the delay in responding. The promised phone call to deal with our complaint about the force’s failure to act never materialised.

28th March

The CPS announced that two men will be prosecuted: Piotr Andrzej Wasiuta was to be charged with three counts of cruelty and Kelly Smith with four. Several local newspapers carried the story.

11th April

We contacted the FSA to urge it to pursue cases against workers at two other slaughterhouses, A&G Barbers and JH Lamberts, as there is still time to prosecute.

18th April

Piotr Andrzej Wasiuta from Southend admitted three charges relating to stubbing cigarettes out on the faces of pigs, while his colleague Kelly Smith from Benfleet admitted two counts relating to beating the animals with excessive force. The prosecutor described how one pig was hit more than 30 times in 62 seconds, including around the head. That both men were in positions of responsibility and both used weapons were aggravating factors.

We sent information and images to the Central News Agency, which circulated the information. The BBC News website ran the story.

19th April

We spoke with journalists and reporters who had covered Cheale Meats in the past. The Telegraph ran the story about the convictions, along with several regional newspapers.

Grants Veterinary Services – the firm that supplied vets to Cheale Meats – was reported as having gone into administration after losing its contract with the Food Standards Agency.

23rd April

We sent out media releases to all Forward Planning departments of national media outlets, upload the film and images for them, and prepared for sentencing.

24th April

We chased up the FSA re investigating JH Lamberts and A&G Barbers.

25th April

Wasiuta and Smith were sentenced. Wasiuta was jailed for six weeks, and Smith for four. Their prison terms were reduced from nine and seven weeks, respectively, because they had pleaded guilty.

 

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