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Cleared Pony Owner Criticises ‘trial By Social Media’

Media caption, Woman filmed kicking and hitting pony

By Jon Welch & PA news agency

BBC News

A woman filmed kicking and striking a pony during a hunt has been cleared of animal cruelty charges.

The RSPCA brought a private prosecution after Sarah Moulds, 39, disciplined the animal in Lincolnshire in 2021.

Mrs Moulds and supporters wept as she was cleared of two charges at Lincoln Crown Court.

Afterwards, she criticised the RSPCA, saying it had been “pressured” to act by “online bullies and ill-informed high-profile individuals”.

In response, the RSPCA said it respected the jury’s decision but denied it had been pressured.

Speaking outside court on Friday, Mrs Moulds said the verdict was “a testament to the importance of due process” and showed “there are two sides to every story”.

She said: “The jury’s decision today has vindicated me, however, the damage from the last 20 months’ trial by social media is irreversible.”

She said death threats sent to her and her family included one in a Christmas card delivered to her home.

Image caption, Sarah Moulds spoke outside court after she was cleared of animal cruelty offences

Mrs Moulds faced charges under the Animal Welfare Act 2006, namely causing unnecessary suffering to a protected animal.

The court heard differing veterinary opinions about how much pain and fear the pony might have suffered.

Mrs Moulds, from Somerby, near Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire, said she intended to “briefly shock” the animal but denied losing her temper and insisted the force used was appropriate.

She told the court her life had been “torn to pieces” by the case, having lost her job as a teacher, and that she had received death threats.

The court had heard Mrs Moulds had made “minimal contact” with the pony, which she still owned, and that there were no signs of external or internal injury following the incident, which took place in The Drift, Gunby, on 6 November 2021.

Mrs Moulds had been riding with children as part of the Cottesmore Hunt – one of Britain’s oldest foxhound packs.

One of her own animals, called Bruce Almighty, pulled away from a child but quickly returned.

As the pony returned, the court was told Mrs Moulds “immediately chastised him”.

Image source, PA Media

Image caption, Mrs Moulds denied two offences on the basis her actions were proportionate

A hunt saboteur filmed Mrs Moulds kicking the pony in the chest and slapping him four times in the face before returning him to the horse box.

Giving evidence, Mrs Moulds said: “In that moment [Bruce] has done something incredibly dangerous and, in that exact moment, I decided that the right thing to do was discipline him quickly.

“In reality, in that moment, it was four seconds. My intention was then, and always was, to discipline Bruce in the moment so that he does not do it again.

“There was minimal contact and it was so quick and so short.”

After a three-day trial and just over five hours of deliberation, the jury of 11 men and one woman cleared Mrs Moulds.

Recorder Graham Huston, addressing the jury, said: “Ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much. I know it was not an easy case, no case is easy, but some cases are more difficult than others.

“What is obvious is you gave this case the utmost attention and you proceeded with your deliberations carefully and thoroughly and I am very grateful to you.”

‘Fear and distress’

In a statement outside the court, Mrs Moulds said: “It is profoundly troubling that, in this digital age, misinformation can spread like wildfire, leading to premature judgments and jeopardising the lives and careers of innocent individuals.

“A snippet of video was taken out of context, and manipulated to paint a picture of me that is entirely at odds with who I am.

“I adore my animals and have dedicated my life to teaching and nurturing young minds; it was heart-wrenching to be so wrongly and publicly maligned.

“The loss of my career, the hand-delivered death threats to me and my children, and the distress caused to my family cannot be undone.”

On the RSPCA, she said: “They are an animal charity, whose concern is animal welfare. They are the only charity in the UK with the power to prosecute.

“They have been pressured to be seen to be doing something by online bullies and ill-informed high-profile individuals, wasting a phenomenal amount of public donations to bring a politically-charged case.”

She said the charity had never asked to examine the pony or see the environment in which he was being looked after.

“If they had visited Bruce on the day after this incident, or indeed any day in the last year and a half, they would have met a perfectly healthy, well-cared-for and happy pony – as verified by an independent veterinary practice at our request,” she added.

An RSPCA spokesperson said: “An independent vet watched the video evidence and in their expert opinion stated it was clear that suffering had been caused to Bruce by his reaction and therefore there was no need to examine him. This was backed by a second vet who is an equine specialist.

“The vets we consulted felt in their expert view that Bruce suffered pain and also psychological suffering by the fear and distress caused.

“The RSPCA will always look into concerns that are raised about animal welfare. This case was treated no differently to any other case, all of our prosecution decisions follow the same guidance as the CPS – that is the Code for Crown Prosecutors.”

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