Sarkar v Howe

Updated: Aug 19



01 July 2022 by Samuel March



On 29 and 30 June 2022, Advocates for Animals acted for Jessica Sarkar, a volunteer at New Dawn Malinois Rehoming (NDMR) dog rescue, who brought a successful private prosecution against a company director who fostered two of NDMR’s dogs, refused to return them, and allowed them to become emaciated, causing one of them unnecessary suffering.


The Facts


This was a case about two Belgian Malinois dogs called Buddy and Monty. Ms Sarkar is a volunteer at NDMR. NDMR took in both dogs from other rescues, intending to place them in temporary foster care whilst finding them forever homes.


The Defendant put herself forward as a fosterer, and entered into a foster agreement, which included a condition not to rehome the dogs without NDMR’s consent. She took the dogs from NDMR in 2019, but then fell out with NDMR, refused to return them and set up her own company, Mars & Minerva Rehoming Ltd (M&M).


In April 2021, as a result of information received, Ms Sarkar and two others attended a rundown kennels in Bluntisham, where online posts suggest M&M were renting kennel space. On arrival, they found Monty and Buddy in a weak and emaciated state, with their bones clearly visible through their coat. A vet who treated them in the following days gave them each a body condition score of 1/9, the worst possible score. One of them had faeces matted into his coat, both had been housed in a kennels that was described to have “stank of death”. Two of the witnesses broke down in tears describing the state they had recovered the dogs in: their weakness, sunken eyes, and desperate way they ate and drank when they got home.


Both dogs were then placed in suitable homes. Veterinary evidence suggested that in the months that followed, Buddy’s BCS went from 1/5, to 5/9 (“ideal”). The vet who gave expert opinion evidence could think of no reasonable explanation for such an improvement other than a change of ownership and going from being malnourished to receiving a suitable diet. A vet also subsequently assessed Monty, but failed to provide a report that complied with Criminal Procedure Rule 19 or attend court.


The Charges


The Defendant was summonsed in respect of four offences. Two offences of causing unnecessary suffering, contrary to s.4(1) AWA 2006 (failing to feed them); and two offences of breaching a duty of person responsible for animal to ensure welfare, contrary to s.9(1) AWA 2006 (relating to their weight, their housing conditions, and allowing Monty to become covered in faeces and not being given veterinary treatment).


Ultimately, without expert evidence that could rule out heart problems as the cause of Monty’s suffering, the prosecutor dropped one of the s.4(1) charges, but proceeded with the remaining three charges.


The Defence Case


Because the defence never filed a defence statement, it was not clear ahead of trial what the defence would be. A Plea and Effective Trial form had been filled in at an early hearing, but only stated


“No case to answer. No admissible evidence against D. No unnecessary suffering. No unsuitable environment. Maliciously motivated prosecution brought in bad faith.”


However ultimately a submission of no case to answer failed, no prosecution evidence was excluded, and no abuse of process argument was made. The prosecution witnesses were not challenged on the state of the kennels or the dogs, and the Defendant declined to give any evidence at all in her defence.


The Verdict


Ultimately, in the absence of any defence evidence, the judge was satisfied so that he was sure that the Defendant had taken responsibility for the dogs, and was satisfied that they were not taken to the vets or given food of sufficient quantity or quality, and that through malnutrition, Buddy suffered unnecessarily.


The case was adjourned for the probation service to write a report about the Defendant, to find out more about an apparent previous conviction of the Defendant for a similar offence relating to horses, and for the prosecution to consider and prepare applications for costs and a possible order disqualifying the Defendant from owning animals.


Sentence (updated 19 August 2022)

On 19 August 2022 the defendant was sentenced to an 18 month community order, required to pay a contribution (due to limited means) to defence costs of £6,000 in monthly instalments of £300, and was disqualified for ten years from owning animals, keeping or participating in keeping them, from being party to an arrangement under which she is entitled to control or influence the way in which animals are kept; or from dealing in animals.

The effect of that sentence has been stayed pending an appeal to the Crown Court.


Commentary


In our line of work, we see the most sickening acts of cruelty, including where animals are brutally killed or left to die in agony. This was not one of those cases. However, it was an extremely important case for many reasons, not least because animals are entitled to have their needs met under the law and animals did still suffer as a result of poor treatment. This case highlights that all these legal protections matter and should be enforced.


Advocates for Animals were instructed as the solicitors for the prosecutor, and instructed Stephen Wells and Samuel March of 9 King’s Bench Walk as leading and junior counsel respectively.


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