Poultry men admit playing 'baseball' with live turkeys

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The Independent Online

Two workers at a Bernard Matthews turkey factory have admitting using live birds to play "baseball" in what animal welfare officers described as one of the worst cases of cruelty they have encountered.

Daniel Palmer, 27, and Neil Allen, 30, both of Dereham, Norfolk, were secretly filmed hitting birds with a pole at the Bernard Matthews plant in Haveringland, Norfolk.

Both admitted ill treatment yesterday and were ordered to carry out 200 hours of community service by magistrates.

The lawyer representing the two turkey-catchers said in court that watching the video which showed "appalling" conditions at the plant made him understand why people would prefer organic, free-range, birds.

An animal welfare organisation that secretly filmed the abuse said that people would be "horrified" by the reality of factory farming. Wendy Valentine, founder of the Hillside Animal Sanctuary, based near Norwich, said that she would like to see a government minister order an inquiry into the industry.

Jonathan Eales, for the prosecution, told Norwich magistrates' court that Palmer and Allen were filmed by a Hillside investigator in April.

"He [the investigator] heard Allen say 'you throw them and I'll hit them'," said Mr Eales.

"They were using poles which they had been using to help them round up the turkeys and they were using them like a baseball bat."

He said that at least three turkeys were abused. A vet who saw the footage said that it was the "most hideous and blatant" abuse he had seen in 25 years, Mr Eales told the court.

Simon Nicholls, for the defence, said his clients were of previous good character and full of "remorse".

He said they were influenced by "peer pressure" at the plant. "It was a culture these two became involved in," he told the court.

Mr Nicholls said the footage - shown in court - revealed the "appalling" conditions at the plant.

"You can see why people move to an organic, more open type of farming rather than this appalling type of environment," he added. You can imagine working in that kind of environment on a long-term basis. It must be really quite awful."

An RSPCA inspector said it was the worst case of cruelty to farm animals he had heard of and added that the poultry industry was under pressure to improve welfare standards. The inspector, Rob Melloy, said: "I have never come across anything like this before with farmed animals. They were clearly treated in a brutal, inhuman way."

A spokesman for Bernard Matthews said that the company was committed to the "highest standards" of animal welfare.

The RSPCA said that Bernard Matthews was working with its officials to ensure that the incident was not repeated.