Trainer guilty of cruelty to chimp

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MARY CHIPPERFIELD, a member of the most famous circus family in the world, was convicted yesterday of 12 counts of cruelty to a baby chimpanzee.

Animal-rights campaigners were jubilant at winning the first circus cruelty case brought to court and pledged to continue their fight to ban animal circuses. Jan Creamer, of Animal Defenders, who co-ordinated the investigation into Chipperfield and her husband, Roger Cawley, said they would take their evidence to the Government. "This is the beginning of the end for animal circuses. When the public realises the appalling conditions these animals have to live in, they will not want to go to the circus."

Andover magistrates' court was shown video evidence of Chipperfield beating Trudy, an 18-month-old chimp, with a riding crop. She also kicked her in the back, the court heard. At one point she took away Trudy's only toy, saying "You can bloody cry," as Trudy sobbed.

Chipperfield, who has no connection with Chipperfield Circus, denied cruelty and told the court: "I don't regret anything. I haven't done anything abusive to harm any of my animals."

Cawley, a licensed zoo inspector, was also convicted of one count of cruelty to a sick elephant. The couple were acquitted of six counts each of permitting unnecessary suffering to elephants and Chipperfield was cleared of a further three counts of cruelty to camels.

Anne Rafferty QC, who defended the couple, said Chipperfield would be applying to have the chimp, which has been living with a family in Dorset, returned. Yesterday's conviction followed an undercover investigation by Animal Defenders, an animal rights group that did a study of the treatment of animals in circuses and training centres.

The inquiry began when a young man calling himself Spike arrived at Chipperfield's farm near Andover, Hampshire.

Chipperfield employed him as a "beastman", looking after big cats. A week later "Anne" arrived, claiming to be a friend of Spike. She told Chipperfield she was homeless and would work for nothing, for lodging in a bungalow on the farm. Spike lived in his camper van, earning pounds 10 a day. Pleased at the thought of getting two for the price of one, Chipperfield agreed. But the young couple, who did not socialise with the rest of the workers, were undercover investigators.

Terry Stocker and Rachel White spent four months on the farm. On the surface they were a hard-working couple, looking after big cats, llamas and chimpanzees. But in the evening, declining offers of a drink from the rest of the staff, they returned to their digs and, in covert phone calls to head office, reported what they had seen.

They also installed cameras in cages and wore cameras disguised to look like buttons. The film was edited into a 21-minute version used as evidence in the trial.

Ms Creamer said the cameras were specially commissioned for the study. "They are made to look like bits of the building where they are installed so they have to be made specially every time," she said.

It took four months to obtain the evidence, after which Ms Creamer ordered the couple to pull out. "They were exhausted by the strain of living under cover for so long and not being able to see their family and friends," she said.

The case was adjourned until April for sentencing.