A police investigation is under way after three dogs were “rescued” from a Yorkshire travellers’ site facing widespread local opposition over claims of “appalling” treatment of animals.
Two spaniels and a pug were taken earlier this month from the caravan site in the village of Esholt, where Emmerdale was once filmed, amid claims that dogs and horses are being mistreated.
An organisation called RAID (Rescuing Animals in Danger) has now claimed responsibility for taking the animals from the council-run site on April 9.
It said its actions were a response to the conditions the dogs were being kept in “and the fact that the authorities have been failing to act on reports of many animals being neglected and abused at the site”.
A protest rally at the site is planned on May 7 and MP Philip Davies has criticised the lack of enforcement action by local agencies after raising the issue in Parliament.
A 13,800-signature petition was handed into Bradford Council last month, but members of the local authority told residents that while there are concerns over animal welfare, there is not enough evidence to bring prosecutions.
We are hopeful that actions will now be taken to remove all the animals remaining on the site.Campaigner Lynne Coates
Since then, three horses have been seized from the site by police on veterinary advice after a visit by the RSPCA, who are carrying out an investigation into animal welfare.
A picture of one of the horses, wearing a bit and standing by a barbed wire fence on a rubbish-strewn patch of land, had previously been shared widely on social media.
Campaigner Lynne Coates said the animal charity, whose new chief executive Jeremy Cooper is understood to have taken an interest in the case, was “now taking this investigation seriously, due in part to mounting media and public pressure”.
She said: “We are hopeful that actions will now be taken to remove all the animals remaining on the site and to ensure the individual responsible for inflicting the abuse will be prosecuted and given a lifelong ban on keeping animals.
“We also hope that Bradford council will monitor the site and enforce stricter regulations on all the tenants occupying the site with regard to animal welfare.”
Local campaigners have compiled a catalogue of pictures showing conditions of animals at the site, and have lobbied the RSPCA and Bradford council hoping they will take action.
In a recent email to Ms Coates, Dr Anita Parkin, Bradford Council’s director of public health, said there were currently no contraventions of the travellers’ tenancy agreement at the site.
She said: “It is becoming increasingly apparent that there is a social media campaign that has the aim of banning all animals from the site and /or eviction of the alleged perpetrators.
“Whilst both the council, and our partners at the RSPCA, recognise the concerns being raised by those whom take an interest in this particular issue, I must re-iterate that both agencies must act within the legislation that is available to them.
“The local authority is currently engaged in a live investigation into alleged dog breeding and our colleagues at the RSPCA make regular visits to the site to assess animal welfare and this will continue.”
She added: “In your most recent e-mail you have stated that some of the dogs have been ‘rescued by persons unknown’ last week.
“I wish to make it clear that neither ourselves, nor our colleagues at the RSPCA, condone any private individual taking matters into their own hands in this manner and removing animals from the site.
“Such actions are potentially illegal and we understand that the matter is one which West Yorkshire Police are now investigating.”
In an anonymous phone call to The Yorkshire Post, a member of the RAID group said the dogs they took on April 9 had been taken for specialist treatment and had all been bred “far too young” prior to being rescued.
She said: “We are RAID and this is what we do, we will continue to do this if authorities don’t act.”
In a speech at a Bradford council meeting last month, campaigner Beverley Wilson said the situation at Esholt was “an outrage, further shamed by the fact that this has been going on for such a long time”.
She said: “It is evident that public opinion against the gypsy site is escalating as more people become aware of the situation, and it is inevitable it will generate problems.
“We ask the council to enforce their regulations on the number of animals allowed on the site.
“To ensure that the welfare of all the animals kept on the site is strictly in keeping with the law, as set out by DEFRA in the Animal Welfare Act of 2006, and to bring about restrictions on the site to prevent further unethical trading in animal breeding.”
The issue was also raised by Shipley MP Philip Davies in a recent Commons debate. He said: “Despite numerous complaints from me, local residents and other campaigners about the appalling treatment of animals, especially horses, at Esholt gypsy encampment in my constituency, Bradford Council and the RSPCA have refused to take any enforcement action.
“There is no doubt in my mind that if those animals were the responsibility of anyone else, enforcement action would have been taken, but authorities appear to pussyfoot around and run scared when it comes to gypsies.
“May we have a debate on this issue so that we can make it clear in this House that animal welfare should not be sacrificed on the altar of political correctness when it comes to gypsies?
A West Yorkshire Police spokesman said: “Police have been made aware of an intention to stage a protest in Esholt on May 7 and are currently in discussions with the organiser to make sure this takes place with minimal disruption.
“Officers are also investigating the theft of three dogs - two spaniels and a pug - which were reported to have been stolen from the caravan site in Esholt Lane on April 9.
“Anyone with information is asked to contact PC 1422 Beck at Shipley police on 101, quoting crime reference 13160151794.”
- Protesters planning to attend the rally will meet at Esholt Sports and Leisure Club, Upper Mill Cottages, Esholt Lane, Esholt, BD17 7RN, from 11.30am to start walking to the site at midday.