Sheep transport (c) Rex Features

The RSPCA has defended its involvement in an incident during which more than 40 sheep were killed at the port of Ramsgate.


The animal welfare charity issued a statement after the Daily Mail questioned why so many sheep were killed in the incident, which happened last autumn.


More than 40 animals, which were due to be exported, were slaughtered on the basis that they were lame after being unloaded from a lorry at the port on 12 September.


“Why did the RSPCA shoot dead more than 40 sheep in a grisly dockside massacre?,” asked the Daily Mail article on Saturday (12 January).


Similar questions have been asked by Farmers Weekly since the incident.


It remains unclear when the sheep became so lame it was decided they should be shot – whether it was before, during or after they were unloaded from the lorry.


“In scenes an onlooker has compared to a ‘massacre’, the charity’s inspectors used a bolt gun to despatch the terrified animals, one by one,” says the Daily Mail article.


“The following morning, the RSPCA released the graphic picture of the slaughtered sheep via its website, claiming it laid bare the casual cruelty of an animal export industry that ought to be banned.”


In a statement, the RSPCA said it was “deeply disappointed in the bias” in the Mail‘s article. The journalist was fully aware of the truth and has chosen not to report it, it adds.


“The RSPCA is examining the appropriate way forward and we are demanding a right to set the record straight in accordance with the facts,” says the RSPCA statement.”


The statement accuses the journalist of taking a one-sided approach, stooping to personal attacks and relying on the opinions of unnamed sources.


“We reiterate that Animal Health as the agents of DEFRA was the relevant statutory body in control of these events at the port,” the statement says.


RSPCA inspectors were present at the explicit request of the Port Authority, Thanet District Council, to ensure that animal welfare laws were fully implemented, the RSPCA insists.


“This was made very clear to the paper, but not reported as such,” it adds.


The Daily Mail also failed to mention that several vets, including two from DEFRA, were supervising the operation on 12 September 2012 and advising Animal Health.


The decisions on the day were being taken by Animal Health, as the competent authority recognised in law, and not by RSPCA inspectors, claims the animal welfare charity.


Animal Health has declined to comment pending the publication of a report into the incident commissioned by farm minister David Heath.


The report is expected to be published in the coming weeks.


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