UK circus owner found guilty of elephant cruelty

LONDON Fri Nov 23, 2012 4:31pm EST

1 of 2. A still photograph taken from video shows a groom hitting Annie the elephant in a undated handout photograph received from Animal Defenders International in London on November 23, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Animal Defenders International/Handout

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LONDON (Reuters) - A British circus owner was given a conditional discharge on Friday for causing unnecessary suffering to an Asian elephant by keeping her chained up and allowing a handler to beat her.

Bobby Roberts, 69, was convicted of three counts of causing unnecessary suffering to an animal.

Northampton Crown Court heard that Anne, an arthritic, 58-year-old elephant was kept tethered to the ground by one front leg and one back leg at all times.

Roberts failed to give Anne her arthritis medicine and to prevent a handler from repeatedly beating the animal. Roberts told the court he would never have condoned the beatings.

Secret film of the beatings taken by rights group Animal Defenders International (ADI) formed a key part of the prosecution case.

Roberts's wife Moira, 75, was cleared of the same three charges following a five-day trial. Both she and her husband had denied the charges.

The Press Association reported that District Judge David Chinnery told Bobby Roberts he recognized that he had not directly inflicted the suffering, adding that he had cared for animals "for the greater part of your 70 years without criticism from any quarter.

"No cruelty was administered by your own hand. The chaining I regard as serious but the real cruelty it seems to me was inflicted by your groom, a man whom you had entrusted with the care of Anne, behind your back and without your knowledge."

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) issued a statement after the verdict.

"Today should serve as a warning that those who mistreat animals can expect to face prosecution," it said.

But ADI was disappointed with the sentence.

"Despite the considerable suffering caused to Anne the elephant, the sentencing meted out to Mr Roberts is derisory and provides no faith that the Animal Welfare Act can protect animals in circuses," ADI Chief Executive Jan Creamer said in a statement.

In April 2011, as a result of the secret filming, Anne was taken away from the Super Circus in Polebrook, Northamptonshire owned by Roberts, and re-homed at a safari park.

She was born in the wild in Sri Lanka in 1954, the ADI website said. In 2001 her offspring Janie and Beverly died suddenly, leaving Anne alone, the website added.

(Reporting By Dasha Afanasieva, editing by Paul Casciato)

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