DISTRESSING CONTENT: Footage of donkey abuse released as RSPCA slams 'shocking and appalling' flying kick on one of them
Covert video footage showing the "shocking and appalling" abuse of donkeys has been released by the animal charity RSPCA.
It comes after a court was told how the herd, which gave rides on Blackpool beach, was subjected to a regime of cruelty and denied proper treatment.
The secretly-shot videos show how donkeys were punched in the face, with one, Bruce, targeted for a running kung-fu style drop kick.
By day, the gentle animals thrilled tourists on the sand, giving rides to young holidaymakers.
But at their home they lived in miserable conditions, the court was told, and three people have now been prosecuted under animal welfare laws.
They are Suzzana Taylor, 48, of Fir Trees Farm in Salwick, near Preston, her daughter Grace Taylor, 18, of the same address, and Suzzana's ex-partner Andrew Lomas, 43, of Central Drive, Blackpool.
All three were living at the Â£450,000 farm when it was raided by police, RSPCA inspectors, vets, and council enforcement officers at 8am last September.
The donkeys, and 16 dogs, were seized, District Judge Margaret McCormack heard during a two-week trial at Blackpool Magistrates' Court.
The court was played video clips taken by a neighbour and his wife, which showed donkeys being abused with sticks and whips.
The animals were kicked in the stomach, and Lomas rained punches down on a donkey’s head and face as he held it.
Suzanna Taylor admitted seven offences of inflicting blunt force trauma and physical violence to donkeys.
She was found guilty of 11 further offences of failing to provide a proper environment for her donkeys, and failing to provide them with proper welfare by caring for their feet, teeth, skin and other equine illnesses, causing the donkeys pain and suffering.
She was also found guilty of three offences of causing unnecessary suffering to Pomeranian dogs which she bred on the farm.
Her daughter was found guilty of 13 charges of cruelty to the donkeys and dogs.
Lomas admitted inflicting blunt force trauma and physical violence to donkeys and was found guilty of ten other cruelty charges.
After the trio were convicted, the RSPCA released these images and videos - and lambasted the three for their behaviour.
Insp Amy McIntosh, who lead the investigation, said: "The footage of the donkeys being assaulted is shocking and appalling particularly the flying kick on the donkey Bruce.
"Their terrible treatment is compounded by the fact the people inflicting it were making money from them.
"These donkeys are such lovely, docile and friendly animals whose wonderful nature was evident in the fact that they were being worked with children on the beach every day.
"They were being presented to the public as being well looked after but behind the scenes were being cruelly treated and abused and the conditions they were living in were filthy.
"Then there were the dogs, fluffy little Pomeranians, who were living in wet and muddy conditions without adequate shelter, and had untreated bite wounds from where they'd been fighting with each other.
"Sadly two of the donkeys had to be put to sleep on the advice on a specialist equine veterinary surgeon, but all of the remaining animals are now enjoying great lives, and those not previously signed over will now be able to be permanently adopted.
"The witnesses in this case, who shot the footage, were fantastic. They were so brave to come forward given the repercussions to them personally of doing so and we're extremely grateful to them. They have changed these animals' lives."
Hannah Bryer, head of welfare at The Donkey Sanctuary, added: “Cases like these are extremely distressing and highlight the terrible abuse some donkeys continue to face in Great Britain today.
“There is simply no excuse for any animal to be subjected to physical abuse. Owning donkeys is a hugely rewarding experience and a wonderful privilege, however, they require caring and compassionate management to ensure they lead healthy and enriched lives.
"The footage, in this case, shows a series of brutal and needless attacks on the donkeys. This cruel and callous behaviour is unacceptable in any arena but is made worse by the fact that the perpetrators were the very humans who should have been safeguarding their welfare during their working life.
“Donkeys are incredibly stoic animals so by their nature, they often hide the true extent of their suffering, however, there can be no doubt that the violence inflicted on these donkeys caused them fear and distress.
“Happily with the support of vets, farriers and grooms, the condition of these donkeys has improved, but they will need ongoing care and treatment.
“We are grateful to the combined efforts of the RSPCA, Blackpool Council, Lancashire Constabulary and all involved in investigating this case. The sentences and disqualification orders imposed by the court serves to protect the welfare of donkeys in the future.”
Carmel Wilde, prosecuting for the RSPCA, said the cruelty was brought to the attention of authorities by the neighbours who secretly filmed the Taylors and Lomas in action.
They released the footage to the RSPCA after moving from the area.
Donkeys Bethany, who was very underweight, and Floppy, who had an untreated sarcoid growth, were put down.
Both Taylors had licences, issued by Blackpool Council, to have donkeys on the beach and give rides to children and, earlier in the year, the animals passed an annual inspection by a council-employed vet.
Ms Wilde said: "The videos show on different dates the donkeys suffering violent abuse; being kicked punched,whipped and hit with sticks.”
"One was given a flying kick.
“On the day of the raid on the farm, the animals were found in a concrete yard where the floor was covered in their urine and droppings.
“Their bedding was wet and soiled.
"The vets’ evidence reveals that they believed the donkeys had suffered abuse over a long period and were living in fear of pain.”
The court heard how the Pomeranian dogs were also in a wet and dirty area. They had no fresh drinking water, the court heard.
One had a painful and untreated bite, and the others had matted hair and running eyes.
Hannah Briar, head of welfare at animal charity The Donkey Sanctuary, said the area where the donkeys were being kept had broken wooden sides and was in need of repair.
She said the animals' bedding was inadequate, and had just a scattering of dry straw.
She said: "There was problems with drainage and at one stage whilst in the donkey area my boot sunk down to my knee.”
Expert witness and equine behaviourist Ben Hart told the court the donkeys were put through considerable pain, including whips being brought down on them from on high and being punched "like a boxer".
He said: "The donkeys appear to have developed a learned helplessness about the way they were being treated. They were enduring their situation.
"They were stoic as if they had been through it before.”
A former neighbour of the Taylors said: "My wife and I would view footage from our security cameras on a daily basis and, afterwards, we vowed we would reveal the evidence after we found somewhere else to live."
Lomas, who did not give evidence at court, had been refused a donkey licence, while the Taylors' licences have been suspended.
Suzzana Taylor told the judge she had been giving donkey rides on the beach for 15 years and had kept the animals for 20.
She denied failing to meet her herd’s medical needs, and said the donkeys had a sand paddock "to play in".
She said she and her husband split up two years ago and her daughter Grace now helped her.
She claimed to used a farrier regularly and also had the donkeys’ teeth treated .
She told the hearing: ”One of the donkeys which was euthanased was Bethany. She never had a lot of weight.
"She had been rescued from Spain, where she was used as a taxi.
"As for the dogs; we showed the Pomeranians at Crufts.
"They were let out into that run when the tribe of police arrived at the farm."
Grace Taylor said she looked at the donkeys' feet every day, and said she would spread up to 15 bales of fresh straw for the donkeys every day.
The Taylors have now given up the lease on the farm and now live in a horsebox parked on the yard.
They continue to deny the offences, probation officer Brian Weatherington said.
Grace Taylor was given a community order with 30 days' rehabilitation, and must do 150 hours of unpaid work. She must also pay Â£500 costs.
She was banned from keeping any animal for three years.
Her mother was given a 14-week jail term, suspended for a year. She must pay Â£500 costs. She also got a three year order banning her from owning animals.
Animals which were not seized at the raid - some more dogs, and horses - were taken off her by the judge.
Lomas, who has previous convictions for violence, was given 14 weeks' jail, suspended for a year.
He must do 150 hours of unpaid work and must pay Â£500 costs. He was disqualified from keeping animals for three years.