#TheList animal sanctuary owner Sara Jane Ross, born 01/02/1954, of Gardeners Cottage, Chalky Lane, Boughton-under-Blean, Faversham ME13 9SP – failed to meet the needs of horses, cats, dogs and birds in her care
Ross founded the Animal Sanctuary UK, based in Lake End Road, Dorney, Windsor, Berkshire, which was raided by the RSPCA on May 31, 2017.
The sanctuary had fallen into a state of disrepair with dilapidated, vermin-infested sheds housing animals, abandoned industrial machinery lying around and piles of litter and manure in animal enclosures.
RSPCA experts had reported horses lying or standing in their own urine or faeces on boggy paddocks that did not have enough grass. They criticised a lack of food and the presence of flies and vermin – with rats running in and out of the animals’ cages.
Seven cats and eight dogs were confined together inside a single caravan.
Vast swathes of litter were also found where the animals slept, as well as dead rats and mice strewn about. Inspectors found three adult cats confined to a cage only big enough for a kitten.
Other livestock were kept in cramped conditions while some stood as high as 6ft off the ground on rotting hay. They were suffering numerous diseases and many were kept in tiny cages which were unfit for purpose.
The judge saw further clips of the video which showed birds kept in tiny cages with small rings attached to their legs cutting into the flesh. Included also was a turkey kept in a tiny living space fit only for small birds.
Hazel Stevens, prosecuting on behalf of the RSPCA, said that the appalling conditions were found after whistleblowers reported the cruelty, abuse and lack of care.
The prosecutor said: ‘Statements from various volunteers suggest the abuse had been ongoing for some time and this abuse took place in a commercial context.
‘Volunteers were allowed to manage and run the farm who had insufficient experience or training to be running such a farm.’
‘The RSPCA had in fact discovered that she (Ross) had hidden many of the animals off-site. Many of those animals have not since re-appeared and could not be found in a second RSPCA check.’
Ross first set up the now-disbanded Horse Refuge in 1994 before opening The Animal Sanctuary UK in June 2012.
She pleaded guilty to six charges of failing to meet the needs of the animals and birds in her care.
District judge Sophie Toms told her: “Something went very badly wrong. I accept you had no intention of mistreating any animals.
“In your mind you were doing your best but your best was not good enough.”
Nigel Weller, representing Ross, said she had been the victim of a hate campaign.
He said: “Some of them are in court. They have ‘trolled’ my client over the internet running down everything she does.
“They bombarded Windsor and Maidenhead Council with thousands of complaints.”
The council subsequently withdrew from a deal to help her move to a better site in Bell Lane, Eton Wick.
Mr Weller said Ross had suffered a serious accident four months before the raid when a horse had trampled her, injuring her foot so badly that she needed four operations and had been unable to attend to the sanctuary as she would have liked to.
He said: “She has been devoted to her sanctuary since 2012. She sold her house in 2005 to devote her assets and money to looking after animals. For 38 years she has been involved in sanctuary work.”
Judge Toms said that the problems on the site clearly dated back to before Ross’ accident.
Ross’s co-defendant Hayley Poturici, born July 1992, of Frensham Walk, Farnham Common, who worked at the sanctuary, faced no further action after she accepted an official RSPCA caution.
Sentencing: ordered to do 135 hours of unpaid work and pay £750 costs. Disqualified from keeping animals for five years (later reduced to 12 months on appeal. Deprivation order issued preventing Ross’s dogs being returned to her.