Details of a dockside incident that resulted in RSPCA officers shooting 43 sheep were revealed at the opening of a court case this week.

Hundreds of sheep were travelling in a lorry due to board a ship to the Continent from Ramsgate port when RSPCA inspectors noticed sheep’s legs were protruding out of the ventilation grilles, Dover Magistrates’ Court was told.

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.

Thomas Lomas, 69, of Kettering, Northamptonshire, a director of animal export company Channel Livestock, is charged with the unsafe transportation of animals. Two French drivers are also being tried in their absence. They all deny negligence.

Kent Trading Standards is bringing the prosecution following a report published by the Animal Health and Laboratories Agency.

RSPCA inspector Caroline Doe told the court all the sheep had to be unloaded so inspectors could get to the injured animals.

A spokesman for the RSPCA said they would be waiting until the court case had concluded before making a comment.

The trial, which began on Monday (3 February), is expected to last 13 days.