ANIMAL cruelty charges in the high profile NSW case against Wally’s Piggery have been dismissed, with prosecution hindered due to unlawfully obtained video footage.
RSPCA NSW and lawyers acting for Wally’s Piggery agreed to discontinue proceedings, with each party bearing their own costs.
The matter appeared in the Yass Local Court on Monday before Magistrate Mrs G Beattie, who dismissed the case when charges were withdrawn by the prosecutors, RSPCA NSW.
Wally’s Piggery, about 20 minutes from Canberra at Murrumbateman, NSW, was facing charges relating to video footage obtained in 2012 by animal rights activists from covert filming operations, reportedly taken over three months.
Media exposure of Wally’s Piggery led to 53 animal cruelty charges being laid after pigs were seen being beaten with a sledgehammer along with other horrific vision.
The incident ignited a spate of similar covert filming operations on piggeries throughout Australia, after Animal Liberation ACT and NSW approached ACT-based animal rights activist and website designer Chris Delforce.
Mr Delforce launched various internet sites - Aussie Pigs and Aussie Farms - to publish covert video footage, targeting intensive farming practices with specific focus on pork production.
That campaign has sparked calls for tougher regulations, including that of federal Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce, to prevent animal rights activists trespassing and withholding video evidence for extended periods, while potentially causing biosecurity risks.
Owners of the now defunct piggery had planned to fight the animal cruelty charges and had entered not guilty pleas, it was reported.
Canberra lawyer Richard Thomas, representing Wally’s Piggery, has been contacted for comment by Fairfax Media.
RSPCA NSW said it was disappointed at having to make a very difficult decision on November 17 this year, to withdraw its prosecution against WSL Investments Pty Ltd, Wally Perenc and Stephanie Perenc (commonly referred to as Wally’s Piggery).
“The RSPCA NSW investigation of this matter arose as a result of footage that has been widely circulated on the internet,” a statement said.
“We are disappointed that this footage was not lawfully substantiated by Aussie Pigs and/or Animal Liberation, who initially released the footage to the media instead of giving it directly to one of the enforcement agencies.
“Those responsible for capturing the images subsequently would not provide a statement to RSPCA NSW so none of the evidence released by them could be used in the prosecution.”
The statement also said there appeared to be a common misconception that the case at Yass Local Court related to the widely circulated footage.
“This is not correct,” the statement said.
“The RSPCA NSW’s case in this matter sought to rely on its inspectors' observations and those of other agencies, and an expert, when they attended in early August 2012, and not the widely distributed video footage.
“The decision taken by the RSPCA NSW on November 17 was made in accordance with its duties as a prosecutor and after consultation with independent Counsel appearing for the RSPCA NSW.
“This is a disappointing result all round given the extensive efforts of the RSPCA to bring this matter before the court.
“RSPCA NSW implores any person who witnesses or obtains evidence of animal cruelty to report it to the relevant authority immediately.”
A spokesperson for the NSW Department of Primary Industries also expressed disappointment at the charges being dropped.
“In July 2013, RSPCA NSW laid charges against Wally’s Piggery relating to the treatment and management of pigs at their Murrumbateman piggery,” the spokesperson said.
“The charges were laid after investigation of the piggery following release of video footage which showed mistreatment of pigs.
“Those responsible for capturing the images would not provide a statement so none of the evidence released by them could be used in the prosecution.
“On November 17 the decision was made to withdraw the prosecution after consultation with independent Counsel, based on matters relating to legal evidence.
“The piggery has been de-stocked and is no longer in operation.”
Situation 'suspicious': Delforce
Mr Delforce said the RSPCA must be held accountable, “for what they have and have not done”.
“How can they blame their withdrawal of the charges against Wally Perenc on the refusal of the activists who obtained the footage to put themselves in danger, while at the same time acknowledging that the 53 charges of cruelty had nothing to do with that footage and were based solely on their own investigations?” he said.
“How can they blatantly lie about footage being given to the media first, when in fact the footage was not released publicly until after the RSPCA had conducted an investigation?
“How stupid do they think people are?”
Mr Delforce said he believed the situation was “very suspicious”.
“Anyone who has information about any deals the RSPCA may have made with Wally outside of the courtroom are urged to come forward,” he said.
“Never has the notion of RSPCA being run by farmers for farmers rung truer.
“There will be a rally held shortly in Sydney, Canberra or both; we will not let them - Wally or the RSPCA - get away with this.”
Animal Liberation NSW has been contacted for comment but did not respond before deadline.