Pilliga farmer Ruth Downey’s four-year battle for justice against a corrupt RSPCA ended on Friday, 11 March 2011. Her application to have her case heard in the High Court was rejected and she now faces losing her home and property.
The RSPCA shot 48 cows belonging to Mrs Downey on 14 June 2007. At least two were pregnant and thirteen had calves. However, the RSPCA was not concerned about the thirteen calves left without their mothers, leaving Mrs Downey to feed them.
These officers were not familiar with drought-stricken livestock, and the feeding instructions downloaded from the Department of Primary Industry’s website were incorrect.
Her barrister, Peter King, had argued Mrs Downey did her best feeding her cattle in difficult circumstances.
RSPCA CEO Steve Coleman told The Daily Telegraph they were “dead cows walking” and it was the worst case of animal cruelty he had seen.
If the RSPCA deemed it “cruel” to keep the cows alive, why did they keep them alive for more than three months?
Mrs Downey’s relatives said the cows ran in terror when the shooting commenced. One even jumped over a fence to escape. The cows were not starving or near death, as claimed by Inspector Garry Ashton.
These cows were not “euthanized” humanely as witnesses claimed Mr Ashton used two to four shots per animal and left some struggling to rise to their feet. One cow suffered for ten minutes before it was killed.
Ironically, a truckload of hay had arrived whilst this bloodbath occurred.
Mrs Downey appeared in the local court at Narrabri in 2008, with her many relatives and supporters. (Robert Sutherland SC later claimed in the District Court that the RSPCA’s legal team “were forced to run the gauntlet of placards” in the District Court.)
Rural Lands Protection Board Veterinarian Shaun Slattery admitted in various e-mail he was in collusion with the RSPCA regarding the fate of Mrs Downey’s cattle. Another so-called “independent” expert was employed part-time by the RSPCA.
Court evidence also revealed the RSPCA’s “expert” witnesses had no experience dealing with dairy-cross cattle.
Walgett Veterinarian Dr Enid Coupe viewed video evidence and blood tests from the RSPCA. She said Mrs Downey’s cows were behaving normally and no sign of starvation or neglect.
Mrs Downey was charged under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act on 6 August 2007. They include 48 charges of aggravated cruelty and 48 of failing to provide proper and sufficient food.
Member for Barwon Kevin Humphries said there was a huge amount of outrage from the community regarding the RSPCA’s cruel treatment of Mrs Downey and the way her animals were destroyed.
No charges were made but Mrs Downey was left with a legal bill of approximately $300,000. She appealed against these charges reversed in the District and Supreme courts but failed. Further costs were awarded against Mrs Downey so she now owes half a million dollars.
RSPCA barrister Paul O’Donnell justified these costs in the local court by claiming Mrs Downey cost them money when she told the media she was not guilty.
Mr Coleman recently insisted the RSPCA shelter at Yagoona may be forced to close if they did not receive a $7.5 million government funding for renovations.
Opposition Leader Barry O’Farrell has pledged funding for building repairs, with ambassador Jodhi Meares, on 10 March 2011.
Mr Coleman said there was no money for building repairs, but it is ironic that the organisation can afford to hire Senior Counsel for local court matters. According to one report, it costs approximately $4,000 per day to prosecute someone for animal cruelty—even if they are innocent.
It was, as Mrs Downey told the ABC, a “miscarriage of justice.”
© 2011 Carolyn Cash
Note: I was one of Ruth Downey’s relatives during the second two weeks of the court case in Narrabri, the District Court, the Supreme Court and her application to the High Court in Sydney.