On 15 October 2021, Geoffrey Bennett, a 67-year-old farmer from Ripley, UK, was sentenced to jail for animal welfare offenses by a judge at Guildford Crown Court, Surrey. Although we know that all farm animals suffer when exploited in commercial farms, every now and then a case like this emerges, where the abuse is so obvious that even breaches the very legislation that legitimizes animal agriculture. 

Following concerns for the welfare of the horses Bennett kept in Hurst Farm in Ripley, in January 2019, RSPCA’s rescuers and police raided it. They found herds of ponies riddled with worms, starving animals, and many donkeys, goats, alpacas and ponies standing on feces. According to the inspectors of this case, Bennett had failed to provide drinking water, veterinary treatment, adequate nutrition, and clean and dry living space to many of his animals.

In the end, 204 animals were discovered at the site, including 131 horses, 33 dogs, two alpacas, donkeys, goats, chickens, ducks and other birds — all requiring veterinary treatment. They all had to be rescued in an operation that has been described as the biggest UK animal rescue mission. Sadly, 22 animals had to be put down or died following their rescue.

RSPCA’s Inspector Kirsty Withnall, who coordinated the rescue mission and led the investigation, said: “It took almost 12 hours on the day to assess all of the animals, load them into horseboxes and animal ambulances, and move them off-site; making it one of the biggest coordinated rescue missions the UK has ever seen.” 

After admitting to several Animal Welfare Act 2006 offenses, Bennett was given a 19-week jail sentence and was disqualified from owning animals for life. He also received a 12-months supervision order to be applied on release from prison. He pleaded guilty to two animal welfare offenses and six charges of failing to dispose of animal by-products (bones were found buried among the muck).

Although the farming community often characterizes cases like this as “bad apples”, there are just examples of what happens when animal exploitation is legitimized and widespread —so everyone can give it a go. The outrage shown by many non-vegans when learning about this case should be channeled towards understanding why this happened in the first place. 

This was not a case of an evil sadist criminal deciding to kidnap some animals and torture them in his hidden land. I think this was a case of a normal farmer who had failed to see other animals as sentient beings for so long that he no longer realized they needed his help. He ended up neglecting them because they did not matter enough to him. However, ultimately, this happened because society indoctrinates people into believing other animals are goods or commodities to own and exploit, whose suffering can be ignored for convenience. It happened because farming animals is wrong.     

“Originally from Catalonia, but resident in the UK for several decades, Jordi is a vegan zoologist and author, who has been involved in different aspects of animal protection for many years. In addition to scientific research, he has worked mostly as an undercover investigator, animal welfare consultant, and animal protection campaigner. He has been an ethical vegan since 2002, and in 2020 he secured the legal protection of all ethical vegans in Great Britain from discrimination in a landmark employment tribunal case that was discussed all over the world. He is also the author of the book, ‘Ethical Vegan: a personal and political journey to change the world’.