Former Leeds vet fails in bid to overturn animal cruelty conviction

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A former Leeds vet and his ex-girlfriend have failed in a legal bid to overturn their animal cruelty convictions following the shocking discovery of more than 30 dogs and cats living in squalid conditions at their premises in the city.

Gary Samuel, 51, and his former partner Rochelle McEwan, 31, were both given 12-week suspended prison sentences in 2016 after a district judge found them guilty of causing unnecessary suffering and failing to provide a suitable environment for the dogs and cats that were kept at Town Street, Armley.

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The judge heard details of how 12 severely underweight husky-type dogs were being kept in cages in a faeces-covered cellar at the terraced property.

Police officers went to the surgery in February 2015 after receiving a 999 call in which it was alleged that Samuel had threatened McEwan with a hammer.

When police officers went inside they were hit by a strong smell of stale urine mixed with faeces and during their visit Samuel moved a table and a carpet to reveal a trapdoor leading to the cellar where the dogs were being kept.

At the time he told the officers: “These are her animals. She collects them. She never feeds them.”

RSPCA inspector Nikki Cheetham, who attended the surgery that night, described how “shockingly thin” the caged dogs were.

A cat and four dogs were later put down on veterinary advice.

Earlier this year Samuel, of Weston Road, Enfield, and McEwan, of Stonecliffe Close, Leeds, launched an appeal before a judge and two magistrates at Bradford Crown Court in a bid to overturn the convictions.

During an 11-day hearing, Recorder Jamie Hill QC and his colleagues heard detailed evidence from expert witnesses about the state of the animals at the surgery and today he told the two appellants that their appeals were being dismissed in respect of five of the six charges they faced.

Their appeal was upheld in respect of a Siamese cat which had to be put down because the pathological evidence as to its cause of death was unclear.

Although Recorder Hill confirmed the pair’s 12-week suspended prison sentences, he said it had been decided that their previous indefinite bans from keeping animals should be changed to fixed three-year bans in each case.

In a lengthy ruling, Recorder Hill said: “We emphasise that in normal circumstances we do not think that Miss McEwan would dream of hurting any animal, but in this case we find that the sheer volume of animals and the stress of her personal situation with Dr Samuel clouded her judgement and her ability to act in their interests.

“She could and should have sought help elsewhere, whether through her contacts in the world of husky owners or from an organisation such as the RSPCA.”

In reference to Samuel, Recorder Hill said: “Dr Samuel was the owner of the premises and we are entirely satisfied that he had control over what happened within them.

“The fact that he was away for part of each week and had taken time to visit the USA does not absolve him of that responsibility.

“We are satisfied so that we are sure that he was involved in the care and welfare of those animals through helping to provide accommodation and veterinary services, and from our observations of him during his evidence we are sure that everything that happened in that building would require his permission or at least acquiescence.”

The judge rejected Samuel’s assertions that he never went where the animals were kept.

Recorder Hill said the offending had taken place in “peculiar circumstances” as a result of domestic strife rather than two people setting out to be deliberately cruel to animals.

He said it had initially been a case of “animal rescue” on McEwan’s part, but it had gone horribly wrong in the midst of a chaotic relationship.

The court heard that Samuel’s business was on the brink of bankruptcy and he was now claiming jobseeker’s allowance while McEwan was also on benefits.

The costs of the appeal hearing were said to be more than £40,000 but, because of the appellants’ limited means, Samuel was ordered to pay £500 while McEwan was told to pay £250.