Animal Aid filmed sheep being killed at this non-stun slaughterhouse for three days in December 2014. There were many problems, including the appalling lay-out which guaranteed additional suffering. Sheep were propelled at speed from a chute and dropped onto a slippery slatted floor where they often fell over or hit with force a solid upright structure that was directly in front of them. This added to the stress and suffering of the animals, and the frustration of the workers, who had to keep lifting them up and all too often took out their own stresses on the sheep. The poor design also meant a sheep escaped into the slaughterhouse and was running freely among workers and dying animals. She was eventually hauled back over some pallets by her fleece.We filmed hundreds of incidents of violence over the three days, including a sheep being kicked in the face before a worker stood on her neck and bounced up and down. She was then grabbed by a foreleg and thrown onto the conveyor which she hit with considerable force.
We also filmed: sheep being kicked in the head and face; sheep being picked up and hurled headfirst into solid structures; sheep being lifted by their ears, or by having their legs pulled backwards over their heads; and sheep being lifted by heads, throats or fleeces and thrown. In one case, a worker turned a sheep onto her back and drew his fist back as if to punch her. Another sheep was loaded upside down onto the conveyor while a third had green spectacles painted onto her face – workers gathered to laugh as the slaughterman cut her throat and then, while she was fully conscious, turned her head around so that his joking colleagues could get a good look at her dying.
The two slaughterman joined in with the torment, spending five minutes one afternoon shouting at them, hitting them on their noses and waving knives in their faces.
To a karate shout of ‘Hi-ya!’, a cut (hopefully dead) sheep was hurled with great force across the room where she landed directly in front of a sheep who had not yet been cut.
Animals slaughtered in the UK must first by law be stunned unless the meat is destined for the Jewish or Muslim faith communities. Under this derogation, however, there are strict guidelines that must be observed. The knife must be ‘surgically sharp’, for example, and yet many sheep we saw being killed at Bowood had their throats repeatedly hacked at, which can only have caused extreme pain. Another law states that the sheep cannot be moved for 20 seconds after their throats are cut to ensure they are dead, but the vast majority were moved much quicker than this, and some before the knife had even left their throats.
The Food Standards Agency appointed a vet to go through the footage meticulously and document all of the breaches – which took more than six months. In September 2015, interviews were offered under caution and the case was passed to the Crown Prosecution Service to consider a prosecution.
Within eight months of revealing the cruelty and law-breaking at Bowood, the company ceased trading and went into administration.
In March 2016, we learned that the two former owners of the slaughterhouse were charged with animal cruelty offences, together with three slaughtermen who worked at the abattoir.
Following preliminary hearings (the first in April 2016), a district judge ruled on 9 September 2016 that the Bowood Slaughterhouse case had run out of time. The court was told that there was a delay of almost a year between the Food Standards Agency receiving footage filmed by Animal Aid and submitting this to the Crown Prosecution Service. The Crown Prosecution Service is expected to appeal the decision.