RSPCA in $2.5m civil court case over cattle 'removed' from Framlingham in 2003

A  CIVIL court case seeking about $2.5 million against the RSPCA, alleging cattle were put down and removed at Framlingham more than 10 years ago, is under way.

Westmere’s James Holdsworth and Heather Ellison, of Bairnsdale, are seeking compensation, claiming the actions of an RSPCA officer led to 311 head of cattle being put down, seized or going missing and the loss of their stud Murray grey bloodlines.

The trial before Judge Bowman in Melbourne County Court  has been going for a couple of weeks, with Mr Holdsworth in the stand for days before former ATSIC chairman Geoff Clark and Koori Court elder Lenny Clarke gave evidence.

The civil case in Melbourne is expected to continue for at least this week and possibly longer.

The case dates back to 2003, when almost 500 head of cattle owned by the business partners were herded from Corowa during a devastating drought and went to the Framlingham forest on agistment.

But the action started when the RSPCA was alerted and claimed to have found about 30 cattle dead at Framlingham towards the end of May that year.

In an amended statement of claim lodged with the County Court, the business partners claim the value of the slaughtered, seized and missing cattle was $588,500.

The future income loss is claimed as $557,600 and the loss of future income through artificial insemination purposes $1.32 million.

The writ claims that the herd consisted of 271 cows, 222 calves and four bulls.

It also claims an RSPCA officer and other “raiders” unlawfully shot or otherwise destroyed 115 head and those cattle were taken to Tesbury Meats near Camperdown.

Another 24 live cattle were allegedly transported to the same meatworks, where they were also processed.

“The plaintiffs have demanded the return of the slaughtered cattle, the live cattle and the missing cattle or that the defendant account for the proceeds of the disposal of them, but the defendant has failed and/or refused to do so,” the writ claims.

Melbourne solicitor John Maitland said the long-running case was listed for trial in the civil division of the Melbourne County Court before a judge and jury in December. Mr Maitland said it was alleged the RSPCA officer involved had overstepped the mark in relation to his powers under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act.

In part of the lengthy legal process, Ballarat Magistrates Court dismissed animal cruelty charges against Mr Holdsworth and Ms Ellison.

In its 2005 annual report the RSPCA said the legal costs for the Ballarat court case would be tens of thousands of dollars.

It said the case highlighted the “difficult task of inspectors in prosecuting cruelty cases, which need to attain the criminal law benchmark of proving a case beyond reasonable doubt”.

RSPCA spokesmen have in the past declined to comment as the matter is before the courts.

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