SPCA aghast animal cruelty case went unpunished
Prosecutors ruled there was not enough evidence to press criminal charges against two teenagers in connection with an attack on lambs last year, it has been revealed.
The news came after the two were arrested in April 2019 in the wake of a social-media video of the animals being tormented and a police report was submitted to prosecutors.
Larry Mussenden, the Director of the Department of Public Prosecutions, said last week: “Upon our review of the evidence, we are not satisfied that we have sufficient evidence in respect of a part of the case.
“On that basis, we have declined to approve charges at this point.”
Kate Terceira, the executive director of the Bermuda Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, said: “The Bermuda SPCA is extremely disappointed and ultimately dissatisfied that there is insufficient evidence to go to court regarding the sustained attack on defenceless lambs while onlookers not only did not come to the defence of these helpless animals, but laughed and taunted the perpetrators.
“Part of the SPCA's mission is to provide effective, lawful means for the prevention of cruelty to animals.
“This was clearly a cruel and heinous act with all the evidence on video.
“However, it shows that even with such strong evidence, there is still much work to be done in order to bring animal cruelty cases to court and provide appropriate justice.”
She added: “It is imperative that cruelty cases are taken seriously; animals have feelings and emotions just as humans do, and we must keep these acts in the forefront of our minds so that we can improve our laws for the betterment of our community.
“We cannot become discouraged or complacent.”
A Bermuda Police Service spokesman said earlier that the matter was investigated by police and “a number of young men” were arrested.
He added: “However, there is insufficient evidence at this time to place them before the courts, although there is video footage of the event.”
The clip emerged in April 2019 and showed a series of attacks on the Dorper lambs, owned by Westover Farm in Sandys.
It included footage of a man lifting a lamb by the tail and throwing it to the ground as well as a chase that ended with another animal being thrown into a cactus bush.
The video, which lasted about two minutes, showed a man pushing two lambs to the edge of a rooftop as another encouraged him to “push it off”.
It continued with the first man seen to throw one of the lambs off the roof.
A police spokesman said at the time that cruelty to animals could result in up to 12 months in jail, fines or both under the Care and Protection of Animals Act 1975.
Two men, then aged 19 and 16, were arrested on April 9 last year and detained in custody.
Officers continued to look for other people in connection with the incident.
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources helped the BPS in its investigation.
A government spokesman said last Friday: “While both agencies have authority in matters of animal welfare, this investigation was led by the BPS, as a criminal prosecution could have resulted — but did not, in this instance.”
Jonathan Nisbett, the Chief Veterinary Officer, added: “Fortunately, no serious injury occurred to the animals, but that fact does not excuse or lessen the cruel acts displayed on the video.
“While this abuse of young animals may have been a case of youthful indiscretion, given the strong link between animal cruelty and domestic violence, it is our hope that persons who would participate in such acts come to appreciate the depravity of such deeds, and receive any counselling needed.”
Ms Terceira said: “The Bermuda SPCA recognises that it needs to uproot the underlying culture in Bermuda of tolerance towards animal cruelty and has worked hard over the past year to develop an in-school programme for all public and private primary schools island-wide.
“Studies have shown that there is a concerning link between animal abuse, child abuse and domestic violence, therefore the aim of this programme is to overcome and prevent these negative societal issues.
“Compassionate Class is a six-week series of inquiry-led activities, designed by the RSPCA and tailored for Bermuda, which teaches compassion and empathy through the lens of animal welfare.
“Children will consider what it means to be compassionate, understand the needs of different types of animals and work collaboratively to develop empathy skills for their school lives and beyond.”
Libby Cook-Toppan, an animal rights campaigner and former SPCA employee, said she was “saddened but not surprised” to discover that the charges were not approved.
She added: “It is indicative of the fact that, essentially, Bermuda's law and overall approach to animal cruelty is woefully outdated.”
Ms Cook-Toppan said: “In order to truly effect change we need a multifaceted response that includes increased penalties, treatment plans and education, and we don't need to ‘invent the wheel' to do so.
“We have a responsibility and an opportunity to select and adapt the best tried and tested laws, tools and information from across the globe.”
She added: “Though the memory of what took place in the video is abhorrent, I have thought often about those lambs.
“I do hope we can learn from this and implement necessary changes to mitigate cruelty towards animals, and ultimately towards members of our community.”
Richard Bascome, a manager and part-owner of Westover Farm, said last week that the animals had “no lasting side effects”.
He added: “The lambs were fine, they grew out of their trauma and they went on to as normal a life as they normally have.”