Racing fans and welfare charities have criticised the actions of the Daily Mirror after the paper published photos on its front page of a racehorse being put down (20 September).

The piece, headlined “Shot in the head… a tragic end for a £1.3m champion”, was accompanied by graphic images after Wigmore Hall broke a leg at Doncaster (13 September).

The photographs were supplied to the paper by campaign group Animal Aid.

BHA seeks meeting

Robin Mounsey of the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) said the organisation was “appalled” and that it was seeking a meeting with the paper’s editor, who has so far defended the decision to print.

“All that the images show is a vet doing his job and carrying out an act of humanity to prevent an animal from suffering,” said Mr Mounsey.

“They show the same actions whether the incident was occurring on a racecourse or at home in a field.

“Animal Aid is not a welfare organisation, nor is it a charity. It campaigns for the banning of horseracing, despite the disastrous effect that this would have on the thoroughbred horse as a breed, and on the rural economy.”

The organisation added that over the past 15 years, the equine fatality rate has fallen by one-third, to just over 0.2% of runners.

Welfare groups react

The piece shocked welfare charities too.

The RPSCA’s David Muir told The Guardian he could not see that the racecourse or the vet had done anything wrong.

And Roly Owers from World Horse Welfare said the pictures were “deeply shocking”.

“Sadly many major injuries, such as Wigmore Hall’s, cannot be successfully treated, in part because of the sheer weight of a horse. Immediate on-course euthanasia, by a veterinary surgeon using a gun or by injection, is the kindest option.

“Promoting a discussion about horse welfare in sport is certainly a legitimate aim, but it is difficult to see how the publication of these photos could serve to achieve this.

“All the article appears to have done is to very publicly sensationalise a tragedy for a horse and those who cared about him, and to vilify a legitimate and humane method of euthanasia.”

However, he added that any racecourse fatality was “deeply regrettable” and should never be accepted simply as an inevitable side-effect of sport. Therefore, every effort should be made to learn from any death.

Upsetting to connections

Trainer Michael Bell said he found the decision to publish the photos “disgusting”.

“Many tears were shed afterwards. ‘Wiggie’ had been a favourite in the yard for six years — he never wanted for anything,” he said.

“I cannot overstate how upsetting the publication of these pictures is. Did those responsible for the decision take into consideration the feelings of those close to the horse before publishing?”

H&H readers took to the forum to express disgust for the piece.

“This shouldn’t be front page news,” wrote one.

Another added: “His connections shouldn’t have to have this on a tabloid front page — it is just incredibly insensitive.”

This news story was first published in H&H magazine on 25 September 2014