Horses and ponies that are apparently being exported from the UK for leisure use may in fact be sold for slaughter, according to an investigation led by World Horse Welfare.

BBC Inside Out (east and south-east) joined the charity to make a documentary on their findings, which will be screened on BBC One tonight (Monday 10 February) at 7.30pm. The charity is hoping that by appealing to the public and media on these longstanding issues, the authorities will be forced to take action.

The charity monitored 90 horseboxes with the capacity to transport up to 22 horses, moving through Dover, the French and Belgian borders during a 48hr period.

The authorities did not perform a single welfare or health paperwork check in this time, meaning horses and ponies that are leaving British shores could be going anywhere, for any purpose, in any condition.

Roly Owers, World Horse Welfare chief executive, confirmed that there were no checks by the authorities in 51 exported and 41 imported shipments between Dover and France during the weekend, and an inquiry has been opened.

“Everything we have found we have shared with the authorities and our evidence is now the subject of an ongoing inquiry,” said Mr Owers.

“We will support that inquiry and continue to carry out our field research until we are sure that there is effective enforcement in place and horses and ponies leaving this country are not suffering.”

A UK transporter reported to World Horse Welfare officers that he is “rarely, if ever, checked by DEFRA animal health officers” at the borders.

Although DEFRA told the charity that “horses and ponies are not being exported for slaughter”, the investigation shows that this is impossible to verify without any basic checks on compliance with the law.

But a spokesman for DEFRA’s Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA), whose officers are responsible for checking documentation, told H&H that EU law prohibits them from doing routine checks.

“As a Member State of the European Union, the UK is obliged to respect laws governing the movement of animals throughout the Union,” he said.

“EU laws are intended to promote free movement between member states and as such, unless there are good grounds, it prohibits routine checks at ports which would undermine the principles of free movement. Checks are therefore undertaken at the place of departure or destination.

“AHVLA can and will undertake stringent checks at ports where there are good grounds to believe that rules are being breached which may represent a risk to the health of horses.”