Jailed: Man ran rescue centre charity where dozens of animals had to be rescued

A man who ran an animal sanctuary near the Shropshire border has been jailed for eight months following the withdrawal of his appeal.

Graham Stephens of Broad Street, Bromyard, Hereford, was first sentenced to eight months in prison at Worcester Magistrates’ Court in December 2022.

He was also handed a lifetime disqualification order for all animals after pleading guilty to eight offences under the Animal Welfare Act.

It comes after 44 animals were rescued from Little Meadow Animal Rescue, in Stoke Bliss near Tenbury Wells, due to repeated reports of neglect of animals.

The court heard in mitigation that Stephens set up the Little Meadow Animal Rescue charity in 2010 – and had good intentions with all money raised going towards the animals. However, he became out of his depth and also experienced some difficult personal circumstances.

An appeal against the sentence was lodged with an application of bail granted.

The appeal was held on Tuesday, October 10, at Hereford Crown Court sitting at Hereford Justice Centre, however, at the end of this hearing the appeal was withdrawn.

The sentence imposed from December 2022 has now remained, with an additional £750 of costs included with the sentence.

The case related to a total of 44 animals – 35 of these were found in a static home in one functioning room.

These included 24 dogs, two rabbits, one guinea pig, four tawny owls (two in a parrot cage and two in pet carriers on the sink), one little owl in a hamster cage, one pheasant (released), one budgie and one squirrel was in a small chinchilla cage.

Seven donkeys and two alpacas from outside in the paddock area were also seized.

On March 17, 2022, a warrant was executed by West Mercia Police at Little Meadow Animal Rescue due to repeated reports of neglect of animals.

RSPCA Acting Chief Inspector Thea Kerrison and RSPCA Inspector Suzi Smith entered the site and in her written statement, presented to the court, Inspector Smith explained that they first came across seven donkeys.

“Through the double wooden gates was a straw base which was wet but offered a base out of the mud, the seven donkeys were on this and were eating the wet dirty straw, there was no hay or dry forage available, there was little to no grazing available,” said Inspector Smith.

“Despite this the donkeys appeared in generally normal to lean body condition, however most of their feet were overgrown to some extent, with some having their feet curl up - this was evident despite the muddy conditions.

"There were two alpacas also present. The ground was wet and muddy in areas, the barn offered a small area for undercover shelter, the base had no clean bedding down.”

Once the donkeys and alpaca were removed, Inspector Smith later assessed the full environment, where there was “broken barbed wire fencing, broken junk, scrap metal, old vehicles and many hazards".

The RSPCA inspectors were shown inside the mobile home.

Inspector Smith said: “As soon as the door opened you could smell the stench, ammonia and faeces.

“Whilst Mr Stephens went into the mobile home to secure the dogs we were able to see into the hallway which was stacked with junk and old faeces was caked on the floor.

“The smell was horrendous already, there was a budgie in a cage stacked on a load of junk at the end of the hallway, there appeared to be a room behind the junk but it was impossible to get into it due to all the junk stacked up.

“As we went into the main room of the mobile home, the stench was overwhelming, the ammonia stung my eyes and my breathing got worse.

“The curtains were drawn, so light was limited but I could see lots of dogs, both loose and in cages, some cages were stacked on each other, all cages and the floor appeared to have faeces on them.

"There was also a cage with rabbits and another cage with owls next to it.”

Inspector Smith said Stephens advised that the two Tawny owls in the pet carriers were wildlife rescued and one was due to be released.

Inspector Smith said their “feathers were caked in faeces” and following an examination the vet advised that one of them needed to be put to sleep due to emaciation and a broken wing.

Two other tawny owls were then removed from a parrot cage in the mobile home and were examined.

Inspector Smith said their feathers were seriously damaged due to being kept in a cage and one of them had bloodshot eyelids. A little owl was examined and placed in a cardboard carry box.

The squirrel was caught and placed in a transport cage following a brief examination. Legally grey squirrels cannot be released back into the wild under invasive species legislation and so the squirrel was put to sleep.

The following day, two of the owls had to be put to sleep following X-rays and expert veterinary assessment.

Following the appeal hearing, Inspector Smith, said: “Thankfully these animals were rescued from these conditions and we’d very much like to thank West Mercia Police, The Donkey Sanctuary, World Horse Welfare for their support and assistance.

"We’d also like to thank The Donkey Sanctuary for taking on the seven donkeys – with two giving birth in their care.

“Animals coming into a rescue or sanctuary do so because they may be already suffering or are likely to, which means it's even more important that these animals are completely catered for and never end up in the same situation again.

"To need rescuing once in life is sad, to need rescuing twice is unacceptable.

“It is very sad that this was a registered charity as there are many others out there doing a fantastic job for animal welfare.

"If anyone had concerns about a sanctuary we’d advise them to make enquiries and if they have any concerns they can contact The Charity Commission.”

The animals involved in this case in RSPCA care have been rehomed.