'Shameful' Devon and Cornwall Police halt animal welfare inquiry

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Media captionA police force has halted an RSPCA investigation into its animal welfare practices, the BBC has learned

A police force has halted an RSPCA investigation into its animal welfare practices, the BBC has learnt.

The charity tried to launch a review four months ago after it emerged Devon and Cornwall police kept a seized dog called Stella caged without exercise for two years.

The force said the review could not start until a parliamentary inquiry into animal welfare was completed.

But the government said there was no reason the review should be delayed.

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Image caption Devon and Cornwall Police seized Stella in 2014 and kept her caged for two years without exercise

'Hang their heads'

Devon and Cornwall Police said Stella was considered potentially dangerous and she was subsequently made the subject of a destruction order, but on appeal was freed from the death sentence. She has now been re-homed.

A campaign team which has fought Stella's case, made up of lawyers, independent experts and former kennel staff, said the force should 'hang their heads in shame'.

Neil Parish, Conservative MP for Tiverton and Honiton and member of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee, has pledged a parliamentary inquiry and called for a "uniform" country-wide policy for how police forces deal with seized dogs.

Image caption Campaigners who fought for Stella said the authorities should "hang their heads in shame"

Stella's story

  • Seized in 2014 she was kept in a 3ft by 9ft cage and not exercised
  • 29 February 2016 - BBC reveals Stella's story and within 24 hours petitions to save her attract more than 10,000 signatures
  • 1 March - A parliamentary inquiry into how police forces deal with seized dogs announced
  • 4 March - Devon and Cornwall Police asks the RSPCA to carry out an independent assessment
  • 9 March - Teignbridge Council says it is carrying out its own investigation
  • 12 April - Caged Stella is exercised for the first time in two years
  • 23 June - Destruction order is removed and a kennel owner applies to adopt Stella

A Devon and Cornwall Police spokesman said: "The Defra review supersedes the RSPCA review, therefore we will not be considering the RSPCA review until Defra publish the committee's findings.

"It is entirely reasonable for the police to wait to be informed of the outcome from the DEFRA Select Committee's inquiry before we embark on our own review with the RSPCA, as DEFRA have the power to make changes in the law that must be implemented, compared to the RSPCA who can only make recommendations."

The force submitted a report and written statements to the Defra's sub-committee inquiry in March.

The Defra sub-committee, which plans to publish its findings in the autumn, said: "Devon and Cornwall Police are able to carry on with their review".

A committee spokesman said: "Parliamentary inquiries do not prevent police forces conducting their own reviews or taking any other action."

The inquiry is looking at the animal welfare of domestic pets, which includes dogs, cats and horses.

An RSPCA spokesman said: "The RSPCA agreed to Devon and Cornwall Police's request to review the way in which dogs seized are cared for in kennels.

"Devon and Cornwall Police have since been asked to submit written evidence as part of the Animal Welfare and Domestic Pets inquiry, which is currently being heard by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Sub-Committee.

"Until the sub-committee has reported back on its findings, Devon and Cornwall Police, and therefore the Alliance Dog Team, are unable to take part in any other reviews. This includes the RSPCA's assessment of the kennel management of seized dogs, which as a result is on hold.

"We remain happy to support them in their attempts to find the best way to provide for the animals in their care in any way we can."

Campaigners following Stella's case, made up of Wheldon Law, independent experts, and whistleblowers, said: "The police have a duty of care to these dogs and the kennels have a responsibility to ensure that their welfare needs are met.

"The local authority, which licences kennels, are supposed to ensure that they are properly run and the RSPCA should investigate any suspected offences diligently.

"All of them should hang their heads in shame."

Teignbridge District Council, the licensing authority for Foredowne Boarding Kennels, said the investigation remains active.

Image copyright Laura Khanlarian
Image caption The RSPCA said "until the sub-committee has reported back on its findings, Devon and Cornwall Police are unable to take part in any other reviews"

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