THE RSPCA has been ordered to pay $1.4 million to the owners of Murray Grey cattle euthanased in 2003 by its inspectors at Framlingham in Victoria's south west.
The judgement by County Court judge John Bowman last week put a figure on the compensation following an earlier case in which the RSPCA had been found liable for the loss.
Owners James Holdsworth of Westmere and Heather Ellison of Bairnsdale had been seeking $2.4 million compensation for the loss of 131 stud cattle that were shot by RSPCA officers because they believed them to be starving.
The cattle were part of a herd of more than 300 that had been agisted from drought-ravaged NSW to land owned by the Framlingham Aboriginal Trust.
Senior RSPCA inspector Jason Nichols and fellow officer Mark Roberts went to the property in May 2003 following reports the cattle were starving.
Mr Nichols determined that 131 animals were in such poor condition they had to be shot. The owners disputed this and the court agreed, saying that Mr Nichols had acted with too much haste.
Judge Bowman said although the cattle were very thin he believed they would have survived.
The judge said Mr Nichols' actions may have been motivated by wanting to avoid confrontation, by impatience or obstinacy.
Mr Nichols had survived being shot in the face by a farmer when inspecting sheep four years before the Framlingham inspection.
The owners said they did not know about the inspection until after the cattle had been shot. While the judgement fell $1 million short of their claim, Mr Holdsworth said "a win is a win".
The case to determine the amount of compensation ran for 68 days with the RSPCA defending its actions to what Judge Bowman described as "the point of absurdity".
The RSPCA is considering an appeal against the judgement. The cattle owners still have not been able to find out what happened to the other 185 cattle from the herd.
By the time Mr Holdsworth arrived at Framlingham the following day after driving from NSW, the cattle had disappeared.