Circus couple deny elephant cruelty claims
Footage of a circus elephant being kicked and hit with a pitchfork was shown at the trial of a husband and wife who are accused of causing it unnecessary suffering.
Bobby and Moira Roberts appeared at Northampton Crown Court accused of having kept the 58-year-old Asian elephant, called Anne, constantly chained to the ground at the Bobby Roberts Super Circus in Polebrook, Cambridgeshire.
Anne has been recuperating at Longleat Safari Park in Wiltshire since she was rescued last spring.
Mr and Mrs Roberts, in their 60s, are also accused of failing to prevent an employee from repeatedly beating Anne and failing to ensure the elephant’s needs were met.
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Opening the case for the prosecution, Helen Law played video footage, filmed by Animal Defenders International (ADI), to Northampton Crown Court which showed the animal being struck several times by staff, kicked and hit with the pitchfork.
The legs of the animal, who prosecution allege was not receiving medication for its arthritis, could also be seen to buckle several times in the footage filmed covertly by the animal welfare organisation.
Mr and Mrs Roberts, of Brook Farm, Oundle, Northamptonshire, deny all the charges.
The footage, filmed between January 21 and February 15 last year, showed the protected animal chained by one foot and one hind leg in a barn on the farm. It also showed Bobby Roberts supervising the chains being swapped from opposing leg to opposing leg by the groom and him kicking the elephant’s trunk. Fourteen days later, the footage shows the groom kicking the animal’s trunk.
The elephant can be seen to be kicked in the side and struck with a pitchfork several times during the footage.
She can also be seen to be kicked in the trunk on a number of occasions.
“The footage shows a near-on absolute lack of supervision from Bobby Roberts,” Ms Law told the court. “Bobby Roberts was quite happy to authorise casual violence towards the elephant,” she added.
She alleged that the groom was trained to hit and keep Anne chained to the ground.
Bobby Roberts said the members of staff were adequately trained, she added.
Mr Roberts said the groom did not follow his orders and he was unable to supervise him due to health problems which stopped him working in the barn as much, Ms Law said.
The court heard how Robert Cogswell, investigations manager at ADI, entered the farm's premises under a fence and placed a camera in a hole in the barn which was directly behind the elephant, in a covert night operation. The group released the footage on the internet in March. Days later, when the police and RSPCA entered the site, they found a “significant change” in the conditions, Ms Law said.
Giving evidence, Mr Cogswell described how he placed the camera in the barn under the cover of darkness.
He was asked whether the situation was fabricated to get publicity for the ADI. “Certainly not,” Mr Cogswell replied.
The charges have been brought under the Animal Welfare Act 2006. Mrs Roberts denies any involvement in the care of the elephant or the training of staff and denies owning Anne, Ms Law told the court.
In being chained up Anne “didn’t have the ability to move or exhibit normal behaviour patterns” she said.
Ms Law told the court the elephant could be seen to sway back and forth and walked backwards and forwards. “This is a sign of distress,” Ms Law told the court.
ADI contacted the the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) following its undercover investigation and filming, asking it to take over the prosecution. The CPS did so “given the public concern over the case.”
Anne, who was brought from Sri Lanka to the circus in Polebrook, Cambridgeshire, in the 1950s, has since been handed over to Longleat by the couple.
The trial is expected to last five days