26 ‘frightened and vulnerable’ horses intercepted during attempt to ‘smuggle’ some out of the UK

  • A load of 26 “frightened and vulnerable” horses including some believed to be destined for slaughter in Europe have been intercepted in Kent.

    An overloaded transporter was stopped at Dover with 26 equines on board, of whom only 19 had the necessary paperwork for the journey. Many had health issues, making them unfit to travel, and at least one pony was infected with equine influenza.

    The horses were abandoned at a Kent holding yard when authorities discovered that they were being smuggled out of the UK, and have been rescued by World Horse Welfare.

    “We applaud the authorities for taking action in this case and stopping the vehicle, but far too often these lorries cross borders unchecked,” said World Horse Welfare chief executive Roly Owers.

    “From our initial investigations, the horses were allegedly travelling from the Republic of Ireland to France, using Britain as a land-bridge. But they are all British-born horses, some bought from sales in England shortly before supposedly being ‘imported’ back into the country.

    “Regardless of whether the horses started their journey in Ireland or Britain, it is highly likely that they would have been travelled for hours to potentially end their lives in a European slaughterhouse.

    “Some are pregnant mares, others had health conditions making them unfit to travel, and one had to be euthanised because it was in such a poor state. Worryingly 13 of the horses are signed out of the food chain.”

    After arriving at the charity’s Norfolk rescue and rehoming centre, the group was found to be carrying equine influenza. Although they were quarantined on arrival, the outbreak meant the farm had to go into lockdown.

    The UK Government’s Animal Welfare (Live Exports) Bill is progressing through the House of Lords. The charity said that this case shines a spotlight on the illegal trade in horses and why secondary legislation, robust enforcement and equine traceability are “vital to protect British horses and ponies from an unknown fate”.

    “This case highlights the tragic reality we believe countless equines have to suffer through being exported to slaughter,” said Mr Owers.

    “Drivers and vehicles are switched, horses pass through multiple hands, sometimes on fraudulent passports, and are moved between local authority areas and from country to country, before they are exported. All to make it harder to trace the people involved, the individual equines being moved and the long journeys that they are being subjected to.

    “To put an end to these abhorrent movements and to protect our nation’s horses, it is imperative that the UK Government gets the Live Export Bill on to the statute book, finally implements a robust and digitalised equine identification system, and establishes an effective system for enforcing all equine legislation, so that smugglers can no longer hide behind a smokescreen of confusion.”

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