Horse owners are reminded that the Animal Welfare Act cannot be used to stop fireworks displays, or pursue compensation for injuries to horses caused by them.
The 2006 Act says it is an offence to cause “any unnecessary suffering to a captive or domestic animal”, and perpetrators could face a £20,000 fine or six months’ jail.
But contrary to information circulating on social media, the RSPCA and legal experts have clarified that it would be very difficult to apply the Act when fireworks are being used in accordance with the law.
Even though a display may cause distress to nearby animals, who could suffer as a result, a court would not be able to convict as in the eyes of the law, their use is not “unreasonable”.
“Fireworks are regulated under the Fireworks Act 2003 and Firework Regulations 2004 which place restrictions on use and supply but do not make it illegal or unlawful to hold a public display or let off fireworks in or round your land and property,” a spokesman for the RSPCA told H&H.
He added that the organisation was not aware of the Animal Welfare Act ever having been used to prosecute an individual or organisation using fireworks legitimately.
Horse owners often report problems caused by displays whose organisers have not alerted neighbours, but Horse Solicitor’s Ian Dexter said even if a horse were injured as a result of unexpected fireworks, there is little chance of legal redress.
“For there to have been negligence, a potential claimant would first have to show that there was a duty of care, and that was breached,” he said. “It would be very difficult to establish there was a duty of care to notify neighbours of fireworks displays and I’m not aware of any cases where this has happened.”
With little legal clout, the onus has been placed on horse owners to be vigilant, and to report any incidents caused by fireworks.
Julie Dorne, a horse owner behind the firework lobbying group FAB, said people had been successful in getting displays cancelled or moved, but that there was often nothing owners could do.
“We give people practical advice and encourage them to leaflet their villages and let people know they want to be told about any displays,” she said.
“Locally, you can sometimes complain successfully if you have enough people, but mostly what people need to do is report it so we have the statistics — for non-horses, contact the RSPCA, for horses the BHS [British Horse Society] and you can also contact police who are rolling out an online reporting system in some areas.”
From January 1 2019 up to the time of going to press, the BHS received 113 reports of incidents involving fireworks. There were three horse fatalities, 64 horses injured and 11 humans injured.
A spokesman for the society said it would always encourage anyone who has experienced an issue with fireworks to report it to horseaccidents.org.uk.
“This allows us to collate incident statistics which strengthens our voice when lobbying for change,” a spokesman said.
He added that the BHS was “in touch with the Office of Product Safety and Standards to offer our statistics and any further support or information” and it had previously submitted a statement to the recent MPs’ fireworks inquiry.
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