Slaughterhouse workers jailed after ALAW intervention

ALAW welcomes the prison sentences handed down today to two slaughterhouse workers who were filmed gratuitously assaulting fully conscious pigs.

The footage was filmed at Cheale Meats in Essex using a covert CCTV device installed by an investigator working with the campaign group Animal Aid.  When the footage was recovered, it showed one worker stubbing out cigarettes on pigs’ snouts.  Another worker was filmed beating pigs, with one pig being beaten 30 times in a minute, forcing the animal to sit down and pant heavily during the tirade of blows.

Animal Aid handed the footage to the Food Standards Agency asking for criminal prosecutions to be brought.  But the investigation was halted prematurely after the government department DEFRA decided that it would be impossible to obtain convictions because the footage had been obtained by trespass and (supposedly) breached the slaughterhouse workers’ human rights.

Animal Aid turned to ALAW for help. ALAW and solicitors from the environmental law specialists Harrison Grant wrote to DEFRA threatening judicial review proceedings and highlighting case-law showing there was no legal barrier to using the filmed footage as evidence in a prosecution.  Only then was a full criminal investigation started.  ALAW continued to be involved, repeatedly pressing the Crown Prosecution Service (which had taken over prosecution responsibilities from DEFRA) to progress the case.

At a hearing last week, the two slaughterhouse workers Piotr Andrzej Wasiuta and Kelly Smith pleaded guilty to animal cruelty.  Sentencing was adjourned to today.

At today’s hearing, the two men’s lawyers expressed their clients’ remorse, and claimed the abuse was part of a “wider culture” at the slaughterhouse.  However, one of the lawyers also sought to imply that, as a “matter of some irony”, Animal Aid’s activities had contributed to the men being under a lot of pressure at work, because a previous Animal Aid investigation had led to the closure of a nearby slaughterhouse, which had, as a consequence, produced an increase in business at the slaughterhouse where the two men worked.

The sentencing magistrates were, perhaps understandably, unimpressed by these submissions, and both men were given sentences of immediate custody.  Wasiuta (the cigarette burner) was sentenced to 6 weeks imprisonment, while Smith was given 4 weeks.  While some campaigners have said the sentences are too short, ALAW notes that both men had no previous convictions, and the court’s decision to impose custodial sentences on these defendants shows the revulsion that the footage prompted, and the courts’ willingness to use prison to deter cruel behaviour of this kind.  This was not a case about mere carelessness under pressure, but of deliberate acts that inflicted suffering and served no purpose whatsoever.

ALAW’s Legal Policy Director, barrister Alan Bates, who advised Animal Aid, commented: “ALAW is very satisfied that we were able to assist Animal Aid in ensuring that justice was done in this case.  The sentences send out a strong signal to workers in the slaughterhouse industry that cruel treatment can lead to significant personal penalties.”

Animal Aid is calling for all slaughterhouses to be required to record continuous CCTV – something that a number of supermarkets have already required of their meat suppliers.  In addition, Animal Aid is pressing for the Food Standards Agency to re-open a number of previous cases that were discontinued because of DEFRA’s incorrect legal advice.

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