A livestock company director has admitted causing unnecessary suffering to animals in an incident at Ramsgate port in 2012 which led to the death of more than 40 sheep.

Thomas Lomas, a director of animal export company Channel Livestock, pleaded guilty to two charges of causing unnecessary suffering to animals.

Mr Lomas, 69, of Kettering, Northamptonshire, admitted the charges at Dover Magistrates Court on Wednesday (12 February). The court dropped two charges of transporting animals unfit for travel.

Two French lorry drivers, Gerard Andre and Dimitri Dessaud, did not appear in court to face charges of negligence. They are expected to be tried in their absence today (Thursday).

The court heard that the lorry, which had travelled from Kettering to Ramsgate, had come to the attention of RSPCA inspectors, who noticed sheep’s legs sticking out of the ventilation grilles.

Some 548 sheep were unloaded from the lorry after the charity’s inspectors noticed that two of the animals were lame or hurt, the court heard. One sheep had a broken leg and another was considered to be lame.

After the sheep were unloaded, RSPCA inspectors put down 43 of the animals in September 2012 after inspectors judged them to be lame and unfit to travel across the Channel.

A further three sheep subsequently drowned after falling down a manhole cover.

See also: Ramsgate deaths court case opens

The defence had asked for the case against Mr Lomas and Channel Export to be dismissed on legal technicalities. However, the judge ruled that the case would continue.

The case was adjourned until today (Thursday) so the defence can put its mitigation and the judge can pass sentence.

Kent Trading Standards brought the prosecution following a report published by the Animal Health and Laboratories Agency (AHVLA).

The maximum penalty for an offence of causing unnecessary suffering to animals under the Animal Welfare Act is a fine up to £20,000.

A spokesman for the RSPCA said: “The RSPCA is pleased with the judge’s ruling that hauliers have strict liability for the animals they transport, and the subsequent guilty pleas by two of the defendants.

“As there are two remaining defendants still on trial we will not be making further comments until the conclusion of the case.”

See also: Live export checks not failing says NFU