by Tony Jones
Doncaster Borough Council has discontinued its intended prosecution of reptile breeder Adam Wilford after months of legal action.
Adam was targeted during a crackdown by the council after pressure from animal rights groups opposed to the keeping of reptile pets.
The legal action focused on an outdated piece of legislation within the Pet Animals Act originally intended to kerb the welfare issues caused by the selling of livestock by non-specialist outdoor market traders. Although the reptile shows of today bear no resemblance to the aim of the original legislation, the loophole is used by animal rights activists in their efforts to end the shows and breeders’ meetings.
Adam Wilson is a well-known breeder with more than 20 years experience and has regularly attended reptile shows organised by the International Herpetological Society (IHS).
Doncaster Borough Council decided it would be more appropriate to issue him with a formal caution and discontinue the prosecution. No explanation has been given as to why it had taken 10 months and two court hearings to come to this conclusion.
The council’s decision is the latest turn in an on-going saga, as animal rights groups push to end the trade and keeping of reptiles. In June 2012, Doncaster Council lost a last-minute Emergency High Court proceeding in an attempt to cancel the IHS Reptile Breeders’ Meeting, despite hosting the bi-annual event at The Dome for nine years. The show went ahead after the court ruled that the council did not have the right to cancel the show, awarding victory and legal costs to the organisers.
Council officials subsequently attended the show and initiated the prosecution of Adam Wilford. Following delays in issuing the summons, the council took the step of offering a him a caution in return for ending the prosecution process on the day of the hearing. No explanation was given for the U-turn and caution plea bargain. Adam accepted the caution with no penalty, no costs and no criminal record – although he remains adamant that no offence had been committed.
The Federation of British Herpetologists championed the case and funded Adam’s legal defence.
FBH chairman Chris Newman said: “The whole issue focuses on a defunct piece of legislation that outlaws commercial activity. The legislation was set for repeal by the last Labour government but has been pushed down the list of priorities since the coalition came to power. Only by licensing the shows will we put an end to this issue once and for all, allowing reptile keepers to go about their legitimate business under the regulation of the local authority.
“There have never been any ethical concerns regarding modern reptile shows. Animal welfare is first rate, zoonotic disease transmission is not an issue, there is no illegal trade and tropical reptiles simply cannot make residence in Doncaster. Despite the facts, these fictional issues are used as propaganda by the animal rights groups to bully to the council to stop the shows. It’s rather a farce!”
“In this time of austerity it is obscene for a council to spend hundreds of thousands of pounds for absolutely no benefit to either itself, the public the reptile keeper or the animals. The only benefit is to the financial campaign of the animal rights fanatics who oppose pet keeping. I find the process obscene and only licensing will solve the problem.”
Reptile shows are the only events to receive such attention, with events for other taxa, such as pigeon and aquatic shows, operating commercially without such threats.