Footage filmed undercover at an abattoir by Animal Aid activists which appeared to show sheep being mistreated has been ruled inadmissible by a court judge.
Forge Farm Meats, Tunbridge Wells, Kent was facing 14 charges for breaking animal welfare rules but the case has been dropped over concerns about the integrity of the evidence.
In his ruling, judge Paul Goldspring said unlawful methods were used by the activists to gain entry to the site and obtain footage using ‘all means possible’. The lack of an audit trail as well as issues with memory card storage and date stamps on the videos raised further concerns about the integrity of the evidence.
Unlike public bodies, covert filming by activists does not require Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) authorisation but these groups and individuals can risk prosecution if they break the law to obtain the footage.
Tim Bonner, Countryside Alliance chief executive, said: “Non-government organisations have taken advantage of covert surveillance regulations with activists carrying out covert surveillance purely for the purpose of prosecution.
“Authorities should not be accepting this evidence or carrying it forward to investigation unless a prior RIPA authorisation has been obtained.
“In consistently accepting the evidence, the authorities are encouraging people to commit crimes and breach people’s privacy where there is no solid evidence of wrong doings.”
The Countryside Alliance said it would write to the Attorney General and the Justice Minister urging ’clarity in guidance and consistency in approach by all prosecuting authorities on this issue.’