A Herefordshire man who ran an animal sanctuary has been imprisoned for eight months following the withdrawal of his appeal.

Graham Stephens (DOB 30/07/60) of Broad Street, Bromyard, Herefordshire, was sentenced to an eight-month imprisonment at Worcester Magistrates’ Court in December 2022. He was also handed a lifetime disqualification order for all animals after pleading guilty to eight offences under the Animal Welfare Act.

The court heard in mitigation that he set up the Little Meadow Animal Rescue charity in 2010 – and had good intentions with all money raised going towards the animals. However he became out of his depth and also experienced some difficult personal circumstances.

An appeal against the sentence was lodged with an application of bail granted. The appeal was held on Tuesday 10 October 2023, at Hereford Crown Court sitting at Hereford Justice Centre, however, at the end of this hearing the appeal was withdrawn. The sentence imposed from December 2022 has now remained, with an additional £750 of costs included with the sentence.

The case related to a total of 44 animals – 35 of these were found in a static home in one functioning room. These included 24 dogs, two rabbits, one guinea pig, four tawny owls (two in a parrot cage and two in pet carriers on the sink), one little owl in a hamster cage, one pheasant (released), one budgie and one squirrel was in a small chinchilla cage. Seven donkeys and two Alpacas from outside in the paddock area were also seized.

The offences were as follows: (full wording below)

  • unnecessary suffering to three grey female donkeys by one or a combination of failing to provide appropriate farriery, failing to provide dental treatment, failing to address the heavy lice infestation .
  • unnecessary suffering to a grey female donkey by one or a combination of failing to provide appropriate farriery, failing to provide treatment for bacterial infection, failing to address the heavy lice infestation.
  • unnecessary suffering to a white female Chinese Crested dog by failing to provide veterinary treatment for the eye condition and dental disease.
  • unnecessary suffering to two rabbits and a guinea pig, by confining the said animals together in a filthy, faeces covered cage of insufficient size without adequate welfare provisions.
  • unnecessary suffering to a grey squirrel by confining the animal in a dirty cage of insufficient size with no ability for the animal to exhibit normal behaviour patterns and/or by keeping the cage in a close proximity to dogs.
  • unnecessary suffering to four tawny owls and a little owl, by confining the animals in filthy cages of insufficient size and in close proximity to dogs and without the provision for the basic welfare needs of the animals.
  • That he did not take such steps as were reasonable in all the circumstances to ensure the needs of two grey male donkeys and a brown male alpaca. A third animal – a donkey – was also added to this offence.
  • That he did not take such steps as were reasonable in all the circumstances to ensure that the needs of 35 animals namely 24 dogs, 2 rabbits, 1 guinea pig, 4 tawny owls, 1 little owl, 1 pheasant, 1 budgie and 1 grey squirrel, for which you were responsible were met to the extent required by good practice.

On 17 March 2022 a warrant was executed by West Mercia Police at Little Meadow Animal Rescue, Stoke Bliss, Near Tenbury Wells , due to repeated reports of neglect of animals.

RSPCA acting chief inspector Thea Kerrison and RSPCA inspector Suzi Smith entered the site and in her written statement, presented to the court, inspector Smith explained that they first came across seven donkeys.

“Through the double wooden gates was a straw base which was wet but offered a base out of the mud, the seven donkeys were on this and were eating the wet dirty straw, there was no hay or dry forage available, there was little to no grazing available,” she said.

“Despite this the donkeys appeared in generally normal to lean body condition, however most of their feet were overgrown to some extent, with some having their feet curl up, this was evident despite the muddy conditions. There were two alpacas also present. The ground was wet and muddy in areas, the barn offered a small area for undercover shelter, the base had no clean bedding down.”

Once the donkeys and alpaca were removed inspector Smith later assessed the full environment, where there was “broken barbed wire fencing, broken junk, scrap metal, old vehicles and many hazards”.

The RSPCA inspectors were shown inside the mobile home. Inspector Smith said: “As soon as the door opened you could smell the stench, ammonia and faeces.

“Whilst Mr Stephens went into the mobile home to secure the dogs we were able to see into the hallway which was stacked with junk and old faeces was caked on the floor.

“The smell was horrendous already, there was a budgie in a cage stacked on a load of junk at the end of the hallway, there appeared to be a room behind the junk but it was impossible to get into it due to all the junk stacked up.  

“As we went into the main room of the mobile home, the stench was overwhelming, the ammonia stung my eyes and my breathing got worse. 

“The curtains were drawn, so light was limited but I could see lots of dogs, both loose and in cages, some cages were stacked on each other, all cages and the floor appeared to have faeces on them. There was also a cage with rabbits and another cage with owls next to it.”

Inspector Smith said Mr Stephens advised that the two Tawny owls in the pet carriers were wildlife rescued and one was due to be released.

Inspector Smith said their “feathers were caked in faeces” and following an examination the vet advised that one of them needed to be put to sleep due to emaciation and a broken wing. 

Two other Tawny owls were then removed from a parrot cage in the mobile home and were examined. Inspector Smith said their feathers were seriously damaged due to being kept in a cage and one of them had bloodshot eye lids. A little owl was examined and placed in a cardboard carry box.

The squirrel was caught and placed in a transport cage following a brief examination. Legally grey squirrels cannot be released back into the wild under invasive species legislation and so sadly the squirrel was put to sleep. 

The following day, two of the owls had to be put to sleep following Xrays and expert veterinary assessment.

Following the appeal hearing,  inspector Smith, said: “Thankfully these animals were rescued from these conditions and we’d very much like to thank West Mercia Police, The Donkey Sanctuary, World Horse Welfare, for their support and assistance. We’d also like to thank The Donkey Sanctuary for taking on the seven donkeys – with two giving birth in their care.

“Animals coming into a rescue or sanctuary do so because they may be already suffering or are likely to, which means it’s even more important that these animals are completely catered for and never end up in the same situation again. To need rescuing once in life is sad, to need rescuing twice is unacceptable.

“It is very sad that this was a registered charity as there are many others out there doing a fantastic job for animal welfare. If anyone had concerns about a sanctuary we’d advise them to make enquiries and if they have any concerns they can contact The Charity Commission.”

Hannah Bryer, Head of Welfare at The Donkey Sanctuary said: “The Donkey Sanctuary is committed to improving the lives of donkeys every day. Our team of Donkey Welfare Advisers work throughout Great Britain to support donkeys most in need.  Thanks to the generosity of our supporters, we were able to provide donkeys, Teddy, Charles, Isla, Barbie, Heather, Isabelle and Ruby with the refuge and care they needed.

“Teddy and Charles came into our care as stallions so were castrated as soon as the vets felt they were well enough.  They recovered well and have recently joined our rehoming scheme, starting new lives with a loving family.  Heather and Isabelle, were found to be pregnant on arrival and have since given birth to healthy foals, called Sue and Harry, respectively. Alongside Isla, Barbie, Ruby, they remain in sanctuary care and whilst we hope they will be suitable for rehoming in time, their future will always be safe and secure with The Donkey Sanctuary.”

The animals involved in this case in RSPCA care have been rehomed.