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Charges against the directors of an abattoir that was at the centre of the horsemeat scandal, after undercover footage emerged showing cruelty to horses, have been dropped due to insufficient evidence.

Derek Lesley Turner, 80, and his son Derek William Turner, 41, each denied seven charges of “permitting horses to sustain avoidable excitement, pain or suffering” at the Red Lion Abattoir in Cheshire.

Yesterday (Monday, 27 October), notices formally discontinuing the cases went before Crewe Magistrates Court.

Footage that was filmed by secret cameras installed by an animal rights group showed three Polish workers stunning horses in the presence of other horses — which is not allowed — and hitting a horse with a knotted piece of rope to keep it under control prior to it being slaughtered for meat (news, 23 January).

It has been reported that the workers involved in the video have now returned to Poland.

David Kirwan from Kirwans Solicitors, who represented the Turners, said: “The Crown Prosecution Service [CPS] was exclusively reliant on covert video footage obtained illegally by a non-regulatory body.

“There was no evidence that suggested that the Turners, who do not appear in any of the footage, knew what was happening, let alone ‘permitted’ it as they were accused of.”

Earlier this month the CPS also dropped a separate case where five people were due to stand trial relating to documents of six horses that were rejected for slaughter at the Red Lion Abattoir in early 2013 (news, 2 October).

Employees at Hillside Animal Sanctuary, in Norwich, which gathered the undercover footage, told H&H they were “extremely disappointed” that the case had been dropped.

“Hillside’s investigators put themselves at considerable personal risk in order to obtain evidence of extreme cruelty,” said founder Wendy Valentine.

“Despite the UK having some of the best welfare laws in the world, this case shows once again that they are simply not upheld, leaving cruelty and neglect to run rife while its perpetrators get away with it time and time again.”

abattoir 2Roly Owers from World Horse Welfare added that “it is difficult to comprehend how no-one could be brought to account for the horrific and extensive equine welfare abuses that were revealed”.

“These illustrated clear breaches of the law that protects the welfare of equines at the time of killing, which is completely unacceptable.

“This outcome clearly supports our call, ignored by Defra so far, for compulsory CCTV throughout the slaughterhouse to assist the FSA in their duty of enforcement and so prevent this type of cruelty happening again.

“World Horse Welfare supports owners having the option to have their animals humanely slaughtered in a slaughterhouse but compliance with the law is a minimum prerequisite to have confidence in this option.”