Your Guide to the Reality of Animal Circus

"The academic panel concluded that there appears to be little evidence to demonstrate that the welfare of animals kept in travelling circuses is any better or worse than that of animals kept in other captive environments" - Executive Summary of the DEFRA Circus Working Group 2007

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Friday, 23 November 2012

Trial by Media.. and what the papers didn't tell you

As news stations and newspapers fall over themselves to report on the verdict of the Bobby Roberts case, the judge presiding over the case expressed a different type of excitement. Animal Defenders International (ADI) will, no doubt, mark this case down as a victory and the result would seem to indicate that they are justified. Jan Creamer, President and founder of Animal Defenders International, will decry the sentence given by the judge, as she did with the Mary Chipperfield case. Bobby Roberts received no fine, no costs and the judge dismissed any suggestion of Bobby Roberts not being able to keep animals, in the future.

ADI will undoubtedly use this as yet another example of how the law is unfair on animals and how organisations such as theirs need to be 'out there', continuing to fight the cause. "Please send your money to..." and you know all the rest. However, what Creamer and ADI won't be publicising is the way the judge viewed them.

For example, what hasn't made the news is the revelation of the sort of people ADI pay to carry out their operations. Robert Cogswell was the man ADI admitted to employing to plant the camera that recorded the condemning evidence of Anne the elephant. Cogswell, who was giving evidence for the prosecution, revealed under cross-examination that he had connections to major extremist animal rights groups. He is an ex-PETA member and has been heavily connected to the Animal Liberation Front, a terrorist organization claiming responsibility for a huge number of crimes. Cogswell has publicly defended ALF on several occasions. He also has a previous conviction for possession of a firearm with intent to kill or cause serious harm.

In spite of his verdict, District Judge David Chinery, who presided over the case, said he was not convinced by Jan Creamer's testimony; the only part in which he believed was her denial that the Romanian groom who carried out the beatings and disappeared before the videos were made public, Nicolae Nitu, was planted by ADI. Rouster doesn't believe this either. However, we think it is highly plausible that Nitu was paid to hit Anne the elephant. Around 60% of the beatings administered by the groom were committed within the last three days of filming.
Throughout the trial the question was asked "Why was the elephant beaten?" It is a question Rouster has asked since the news first broke. There is no visible or explainable reason why the groom hit the elephant. The animal was not being moved over, not being made to perform and the groom was not showing signs of losing his temper. No one could come up with a plausible answer.

Another serious question was raised by the way in which ADI chose to handle the footage. Judge Chinery publicly criticised ADI for their decision to hand over the footage to the media, rather than to the police or the RSPCA. As reported in The Examiner, District Judge Chinery raised two extremely valid points.

Firstly, the fact that the footage was publicised before any legal proceedings could take place led to the owner and his wife being "tried by the public" and put the Roberts' family in danger. Not only they received threats via email and social networking sites, but even their grandchildren were being bullied and ostracised at school.

Secondly, ADI sat on the evidence for two months. If their main concern was the welfare of the elephant, why would they wait that long? As Judge Chinery pointed out, "if the plight of such an animal is reported to the RSPCA immediately, they will take steps to ensure the safety of the animal without delay and if appropriate work with the owner to re-home the animal or ensure its future in its current environment."

"The conclusion to which I am drawn therefore is that Anne's welfare was only a part of the objective by ADI; they have a wider agenda, much of which has been alluded to by defence counsel."

It appears unlikely that ADI was unaware of the fact that they were throwing the Roberts family to the wolves. Had they followed conventional channels for reporting animal abuse, they could have ensured that Anne the elephant was "taken to safety" much sooner, whilst avoiding exposing the Roberts family to danger and vilification and potentially compromising their right to a fair and balance trial. It seems obvious that their intention was precisely that of creating a "trial by media", which unfortunately, despite the sentencing, is clearly not over yet.

The report by The Guardian is a paragon of fairness. It starts out with: "A circus owner has been found guilty of causing suffering to an elderly elephant, but the judge who heard the case strongly criticised the methods used by animal activists who exposed him." Both the judge's concerns and ADI's complaints about the sentencing are reported.

However, interesting, if not surprisingly, this level of fairness is not shown by other publications. The Telegraph start their article with "A circus owner was today found guilty of three counts of causing unnecessary suffering to Anne the Asian elephant." Only in the sixth paragraph they mention that "Sentencing, Judge Chinery said he recognised that Bobby had not directly inflicted the suffering, adding that he had cared for animals ''for the greater part of your seventy years without criticism from any quarter". The fact that Judge Chinery described Mr Roberts' past record as "exemplary" is mentioned much further down in the article, and only in passing.

The Daily Mail does even better. The title of their report is "Guilty of cruelty but not even fined: Circus owner who let Anne the elephant be chained and beaten walks free." Nothing incendiary or one-sided about that! They quote ADI's Jan Creamer right at the start of the article, but could not find the space to mention any of the concerns raised by the judge about ADI.

Judge Chinery stated that both ITV and BBC came very close to being held in contempt of court for the way they had reported on the case and that he was "disgusted" by the way it was being reported.

Interestingly, within an hour of the initial reports being put online several of them started to become more balanced. The Daily Mail clearly had an agenda. They profess to being part of a campaign that relocated Anne the elephant to Longleat Safari Park. In truth this was the park chosen by the Roberts. When "The One Show" broadcast Bobby and Moira Roberts visiting, the Longleat keeper expressed the good condition Anne was in despite her age. However, The Daily Mail did quote Chinery in his recognition that Bobby Roberts was ignorant of Nicolae Nitu's actions and neglect. "The real cruelty was inflicted by your groom, who acted behind your back and without your knowledge". 

For the record, these are the official remarks Judge Chinery wrote about Robert Cogswell and Jan Creamer:

"I found Robert Cogswell to be a witness whose evidence I must treat with caution. He works for ADI an organisation which has its own agenda and was, perhaps not unnaturally, somewhat circumspect about the amount of detail he gave in his evidence. He was questioned at length about his previous conviction and his previous activities with organisations engaging in like activities. He was not shaken under cross-examination but I was left with the impression that he had told me what he wanted me to hear. In particular his account of how the camera came to be placed in the location was too coincidental for me to accept."

"Jan Creamer is the Chief Executive of ADI. She was very clear about the objectives of her organisation. She authorised Robert Cogswell to undertake the covert surveillance of the barn. It was put to her at length that the keeper Nitu was an employee planted by ADI, something which she denied equally vehemently. She was also questioned at length about the way in which and the time-frame within which the video footage had been released to the media. She maintains that this is the most effective way of promoting their cause and of securing convictions. She was not shaken under cross-examination. Her evidence re-inforced the concerns which I have about the way in which this case was put together before the Crown Prosecution Service became involved and about the way in which ADI in general operates."

"The conclusion to which I am drawn therefore is that Anne’s welfare was only a part of the objective by ADI; they have a wider agenda much of which has been alluded to by defence counsel."

The full verdict and sentencing notes can be found on the Judiciary's website.

Astley's Legacy was formed to counter the misinformation and propaganda spread by animal rights activists. As well as fighting the corner for circus animals and their trainers, we are here to promote and celebrate the cultural heritage of circus in general, and especially in the country of its birth - Great Britain. For more information please see our Facebook group

1 comment:

  1. Yes, it's about time that when these reports in papers are published ALL of the court report should be written not what the biased reporter
    and editor think.The "Sun Wot's Dun It" is the second paper ot claim that they got Anne into Longleat ( how many more claims )
    There are always two sides to every story,some true some very near but the very near are always the one that get the biggest mention.
    I never hear of ADI campaining to get dog leads or collars removed or the stopping of horse racing or the seven feet high jumps at the horseof the year show, or rabbits in small cages at shows it seems they get on their high horse oops at what is flavour of the mo.nth