Farm at centre of goat cruelty scandal may have to close, owners say as more supermarkets pull products

Three staff dismissed, one put on final written warning and full closure a possibility after boss of scandal-hit site admits abuse caught on secret film was ‘horrifying’

Colin Drury
Ottringham, East Yorkshire
,Chris Baynes
Tuesday 28 July 2020 20:35 BST
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Goats cry out in pain on dairy farm

The farm at the centre of a horrific goat cruelty scandal revealed by The Independent may have to be shut down, its owner has said.

Animals were secretly filmed being punched, kicked and slammed on their back at Far Marsh Farm, near Hull in East Yorkshire.

Tesco, Waitrose, Sainsbury’s and Marks and Spencer all said they would immediately drop St Helen’s Farm dairy products – which are made using milk produced at Far Marsh – after being alerted to the brutality on Monday. On Tuesday, Ocado did likewise.

Now, Angus Wielkopolski, founder of Yorkshire Dairy Goats which owns the farm, has told The Independent he is disgusted by what he saw in the video and says he is facing having to close the 4,000-animal site if he cannot salvage its reputation.

Three out of its 10 staff have already been dismissed for gross misconduct while a fourth has been placed on an immediate final written warning. On Tuesday morning, just hours after the abuse was revealed, CCTV was being installed across the plant so its general manager – who says he was unaware of the abuse – could monitor animal treatment by workers.

“We are totally shocked and disgusted by what we have seen on that video,” Mr Wielkopolski said. “We are horrified. We had no idea this was going on. If we had known, we would have stopped it instantly. We have always made animal welfare a top priority…

“It’s a big farm which runs 18 hours a day, seven days a week and the manager can’t supervise everything. We trusted our people. We cannot believe that they have done this. I have to believe it because I have seen the footage but if you had told me two days ago this was happening, I wouldn’t have believed it.”

Asked what the revelation might do to business, the 65-year-old said: “I don’t want to speculate at the moment but whether the farm continues, we will have to see. You cannot run a dairy farm if you cannot sell the milk. It is not possible.”

Mr Wielkopolski and wife Kathleen have run Yorkshire Dairy Goats and sister business A&K Wielkopolski for 35 years. They own a second farm, also in East Yorkshire, with another 4,000 goats.

He said milk produced across the two sites had helped popularise the product in a period when increasing numbers of people have sought alternatives to cow’s milk. But he added: “We have worked hard for 35 years and that could all get destroyed overnight.”

Ed Winters, co-founder and director of Surge, the animal rights group which first exposed the footage, said: “Goats are sensitive, curious and gentle animals, but the animal-farming industries treat them as commodities they can exploit for profit.

“St Helen’s say on their website the milk is a reward for looking after the goats and that their staff have a genuine interest and love for the animals. But it is obvious that the opposite is true at one of their supplying farms.”

About an hour’s worth of video was passed to the group.

In it, goats at Far Marsh – which is between the villages of Keyingham and Ottringham – were seen being kicked and punched, beaten with a pole, held by the throat and having their tails twisted.

In one clip, goats were slammed onto their backs on a conveyor belt before their hooves were roughly trimmed. In another, an animal was seen being dragged by one leg along the ground while struggling.

All of Britain’s leading supermarket chains said on Monday they would remove the St Helen’s Farm range from their shelves pending further investigation after being shown the footage by The Independent.

But Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Waitrose were continuing to sell the brand’s milk, cheese and butter in three south London supermarkets visited by The Independent on Tuesday.

Waitrose and Tesco both said they had stopped new orders of the products but would sell remaining stock already in stores.

“We take animal welfare very seriously and have suspended all new orders from this company yesterday while we investigate. So what you see on our shelves will have been received before this date,” a Waitrose spokesperson said.

A spokesperson for Sainsbury’s insisted “all products are being removed from sale”.

Tesco and other supermarkets were still selling St Helen’s Farm produce after footage of goats being abuse emerged
Tesco and other supermarkets were still selling St Helen’s Farm produce after footage of goats being abuse emerged (The Independent)

St Helen’s Farm – which also uses goats milk from several other farms – has already ceased buying produce from Yorkshire Dairy Goats.

Speaking after the initial revelations on Monday, a company spokesperson said: “Today we have been made aware of allegations that one farm has infringed animal welfare standards, which we would find totally unacceptable if true.

“We have immediately ceased all milk supply from this farm and launched a full investigation to determine the facts of this matter.”

The Animal Welfare Act 2006 states animals, including farm animals, must be protected from pain, injury, suffering and disease.

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