The RSPCA has launched a legal challenge against the export of live animals from a Kent port.

The animal welfare charity lodged a claim in the High Court to seek a judicial review of the approval and supervision of live animal exports through the port of Ramsgate.

Thanet District Council last month lifted its temporary ban on live exports at Ramsgate following an incident when more than 40 sheep were put down by RSPCA officers at the port because they were lame.

Currently, officers from the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA) are responsible for checking every consignment of live animal exports through the port to tighten controls and prevent further incidents.

The RSPCA said it was launching legal proceedings because it believed the AHVLA was “acting unlawfully”.

The charity said animals were still being allowed to be transported to Calais on an open-deck, flat-bottom converted Russian tank transporter, the MV Joline.

The RSPCA accused the AHVLA of failing to require the exporters to use ports with appropriate facilities and also of failing to impose sailing restrictions on the MV Joline to ensure animals were not injured or caused undue harm while being transported by sea.

RSPCA chief executive Gavin Grant said: “The lack of facilities at or near the port to deal with emergencies, the use of an old tank transporter to ship animals across the Channel in rough weather and the failure to thoroughly inspect animals at the port are all unacceptable. This cannot go on.

“The animals deserve their day in court. We need the public’s help to make that happens.”

Last month, MPs took part in a debate in the House of Commons over whether Britain should ban live animal exports to Europe.

Responding to the debate, farm minister David Heath promised to take a “zero tolerance” approach to lapses after he announced a tightening of animal welfare rules surrounding animal exports.

A High Court judge will decide early this year whether it will hear the RSPCA’s case.

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