Slaughterer cleared of 'recklessly' shooting at sheep

A Slaughterman was found not guilty yesterday of recklessly shooting at stray sheep which a local council had employed him to kill at the height of the foot-and-mouth outbreak last year.

A jury of five men and seven women at Cardiff Crown Court took three hours to clear Adrian Walker. During the four-day trial, the 33-year-old had been accused of breaking health and safety regulations by firing at sheep more than 30 metres away in a field in Gilwern, near Abergavenny, south Wales. Mr Walker was employed by Monmouthshire County Council to kill the 21 ewes and 11 lambs.

He stopped shooting after residents, living yards from the field, voiced their concerns about what was happening. One resident, Leslie Smith, videoed the incident from his home. This video was shown several times during the trial.

Mr Walker, of Grosmont, Abergavenny, told the court that "safety, safety and safety" was his main concern on the day. He said that, had pens been made available, he would have used them to round up the sheep. He told the court that he was a "proficient" gunman and that he had taken steps to avoid any risk to health and safety.

Martin Hickey, a trading standards officer with Monmouthshire County Council, admitted that the council had not provided any sheep hurdles. But the court heard that after the incident sheep hurdles and a special task force were provided to deal with any similar situations. The council has pleaded guilty to two charges of breaching health and safety regulations and will be sentenced at a later date.

Mr Walker's solicitor, Clive Rees, said: "We feared after seeing the video [the jury] would see it as an animal welfare issue and not simply the health and safety issue it is. They managed to divorce themselves from the animal welfare issues. The right decision has been reached."

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