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CCRC in the dog house?

Updated: May 11



In this article, Bill Robertson explores allegations of CCRC failures in its review of the convictions to brother and sister, Paul and Rosemary Wiggin, under s.9 of the Animal Welfare Act (2006). It will not surprise readers of CCRC Watch that despite being offered evidence that undermined the prosecutions, the CCRC determined that it was not 'fresh' and should have been presented at trial or on appeal. Further, in response to the claim by the Wiggins that their evidence was not presented to the court, the CCRC determined that the non-presentation of this material would be seen by the Court as indicative of a legitimate tactical decision by the defence. Does this sound like the work of an independent miscarriages of justice 'Watchdog' or a criminal appeals lapdog?


The Runciman Commission almost certainly didn’t envisage the CCRC becoming involved in an alleged miscarriage of justice that emanates from a Magistrates Court involving a one-year conditional discharge levied against two dog owners. Nevertheless, this case raises serious issues about the working methods of the CCRC, and their failure to assist two siblings who alleged that they were wrongly convicted.


The CCRC are placed in the situation whereby they are considering prosecution evidence that is claimed to be based on fictional, i.e., perjured, accounts of events. As usual, in this type of case, the CCRC have not spoken directly with the complainants and have relied instead upon a desktop review of case papers. As ever, the CCRC have concluded that the prosecution was fair, the verdict was correct and there is no prospect of an appeal being successful. However, this is because the CCRC has sided with the prosecution and not taken the account of the complainants seriously.


This is a case where considerable evidence for the defence has, for whatever reasons, not been presented to the court and the defendants were advised to give ‘no comment’ interviews. As a result of poor legal advice and tactics, the defendants find that the CCRC takes the view that it is their fault that an inadequate defence was presented at trial, and it is now too late to do anything about it.


Rosemary and Paul Wiggin (sister and brother) have been trying to overturn a conviction dating from 2014 and may be victims of the now notorious RSCPA prosecution department which, following numerous complaints about overzealous prosecution, finally said that they would cease to prosecute cases directly in 2021,[i] although they continue to collect evidence and encourage the Crown Prosecution Service to bring cases to court and, it seems, continue to prosecute.


The Wiggin’s were convicted in a Magistrates Court of an offence that they say quite simply never took place; they claim there was no crime and no evidence of a crime. Following press releases by the RSPCA, the Wiggin’s were sent several death threats including one that threatened to burn their home down, making it unsafe for their elderly mother to remain at her home of over 30 years. As a result, her health deteriorated severely and eventually she passed away in hospital in February 2016 having never returned to her home.


The sentences were as follows:


1st July 2015 - Magistrates Court, Cannock & Burton on Trent

Rosemary Wiggin £1,000 costs,

+ 3-year conditional discharge,

+ disqualified keeping dogs 1 year

Paul Wiggin £7,000 costs,

+ 1 year condition discharge,

+ disqualified keeping dogs 1 year

On Appeal. Stafford Crown Court, 8th February 2016

Rosemary Wiggin - £1750.00 costs,

+ conditional discharge 3 years,

+ 3-year ban on keeping dogs

Paul Wiggin - £8,750 costs,

+ conditional discharge 3 years.,

+ 3-year ban on keeping dogs.


The Wiggin’s were charged with one offence contrary to S.9(1) the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) 2006. The charge relates to the environment in which the dogs were kept and does not imply any cruelty to the animals. The allegations are in respect of 21 dogs and 8 puppies seized. Ms. Jayne Bashford, an RSPCA inspector, PC Simon Lawrence (5118) and Veterinary Surgeon Laura Hamilton MRCVS attended Rosemary’s house in Burntwood, Staffordshire. The RSPCA gained entry to the property without a warrant. The animals were seized under section 18(5) AWA 2006 on the basis of a written certificate signed by Laura Hamilton MRCVS. The dogs were then examined on the 31st of July 2014 by Laura Hamilton.


RSPCA investigators quite blatantly impersonate police officers, with a virtually identical uniform and ranks such as Inspector and Superintendent. The RSPCA have been particularly successful in getting the police to attend and facilitate illegal entry to properties; causing police officers to act illegally, including unlawful arrest.[ii]


The RSPCA had previously visited the premises and closed its investigation relating to Miss Wiggin only a few days before they Illegally seized the dogs. Just days after giving the premises a clean bill of health, Inspector Bashford claimed that the property was unsuitable. However, the case closure documentation from the RSPCA shows that there were NO concerns about the dogs or the property just a few weeks before the incident. This RSPCA document was not seen by the Court.


The Wiggins’ nightmare started on 31st July 2014 when the RSPCA visited Rosemary’s home. According to Rosemary, two RSPCA Inspectors were told that they could not come in she was busy arranging for a doctor to visit her mother who was suffering from dementia and was house ridden. Despite being told that they could not enter the house, Rosemary says that the two "officers" would not leave and gradually backed her into the house to gain entrance. Once they were inside, they refused to leave despite constant requests from Rosemary.


It is not known why the RSPCA arrived at the house. Neighbours on either side of Mr. and Miss Wiggin home wrote letters to the Court, which outline that there were no problems with smells etc. emanating from the premises; this is stark contradiction to the evidence of the RSPCA officers and indeed the vet Laura Hamilton who stated that they could smell the house from the footpath which is around 15 metres from the house. However, neither of the neighbours’ letters were submitted as evidence despite Mr. and Miss Wiggin asking for them to be.


According to the Wiggin’s a social worker then arrived and said she'd arranged to meet the RSPCA at the house and soon after the social worker arrived the RSPCA said they were taking the dogs away. A police officer, PC Lawrence, then arrived and entered the property without asking for permission and without a warrant, contrary to PACE requirements.[iii]


Rosemary says that PC Lawrence did not have a warrant nor seek permission to enter either the outside garden of the property nor the house itself. However, whilst on oath PC Lawrence stated he and the RSPCA were granted permission to enter by Rosemary Wiggin. However, this is demonstrably untrue as from her own video recording RSPCA officer Jayne Bashford is plainly seen entering the property without asking or seeking permission to do so.



The State of the House as alleged by the Prosecution.


The Prosecution alleged that:

  • On entry to the said premise, they were instantly aware of a powerful smell of ammonia which originated from urine. One witness, PC Lawrence, stated the smell was so strong that he had to leave the house temporarily because he felt nauseous.

  • Once inside they noticed both the evidence of past and present faeces in the downstairs rooms, hallway and the bedrooms upstairs including the stair carpet.

  • There were plates of dog food on the ground, which had white substance upon them which they took to be fly eggs.

  • In the main front room of the house was an elderly lady sitting in a chair.

  • There were many dogs crowded in the kitchen, which was in a very cluttered state.


The State of the Garden as alleged by the Prosecution.


They allege generally:

  • It was in a very cluttered state.

  • There was a strong smell of faeces and urine emanating from it.

  • The interior of one of the sheds smelt strongly of urine emanating from some carpeting placed there.

  • There were boxes stored there in such a way that they might cause a hazard to the dogs.

  • At the end of the garden there was a section fenced off that contained two female dogs and their puppies.

  • This area also contained a kennel-like construction whose interior was sopping wet.

  • They were few toys for the dogs to play with.

  • There was nowhere comfortable for the dogs to sit and rest.


State of the House as asserted by the Defendants


  • The kitchen was not unduly cluttered

  • The house either did not smell of urine/faeces or if there were any such smell, they have been greatly exaggerated by the prosecution witnesses. The source of any such might well be traced to their bedridden mother who suffered from incontinence and had to be attended to for that problem twice a day by a visiting carer. Rosemary Wiggin was left to dispose of the bags in the bin, which were emptied once a fortnight.

  • On that day Mrs Wiggin had only just returned from the shops buying fresh meat for the dogs which she showed to the RSPCA who confirmed they said that the dogs were being fed better than them.

  • She had not had time to do her usual tidy up before the RSPCA arrived.

  • There were no faeces anywhere in the house.

  • There was no residue urine anywhere in the house.


The state of the Garden as asserted by the defendants


  • The garden was cluttered, but entirely appropriate for the dogs to use for the limited purpose as their play/access area during the day (see below).

  • There were ample toys for them.

  • There were ample rest areas including their exclusive use of two loungers (one a double).

  • The garden was regularly cleaned of faeces and on the 31/7/14 there were only 3 discernible faeces in the garden on both the video and the stills taken which 21 adult dogs had regular access which shows the consistency of the cleaning operation usually done by Ms Wiggin.


There appears to be a fundamental and important misunderstanding by the RSPCA that the dogs were largely kept in the garden and spent the night there. The Wiggin’s say that this was completely untrue. None of the dogs ever spent a night in the garden but slept inside the house. The garden was used exclusively for as their play area. The dogs were regularly exercised on walks. This misapprehension was particularly important with regards to the puppies, which the RSPCA assumed were confined permanently to their fenced off section of the garden and lived in a small kennel-like structure, which was open to elements and the floor of which was damp when the RSPCA saw it that day due to the recent rain. This was completely refuted by the defendants who say the puppies were kept inside during the night.


After the dogs were seized an independent Vet, Colin J Vogel BVetMed, MRCVS, MCIArb with 30 years’ experience was asked to appraise the condition of the dogs. He reported:


  • On 31/7/2014 dogs were visually appraised by Ms. Hamilton MRCVS. She signed a S18 certificate. The dogs were seized by PC. Lawrence.

  • Later the same day the dogs were examined by Ms. Hamilton at her surgery.

  • A number of dogs may have had eye problems, although there is an unacceptable lack of detail in the clinical information so far disclosed to me. Such problems are not included in the wording of the single summons. They are common in the breed and related to the breed rather than the environment.

  • A number of dogs had umbilical hernias. Such defects are not in any way connected to the environment.

  • One dog, JEB 22, passed haemorrhagic faeces at the veterinary surgery. Again, at the time of writing no details of the clinical presentation have been disclosed. I have seen no suggestion that it required any investigation. There is certainly no evidence that this occurrence was in any way linked to the previous environment.

  • Although Ms. Hamilton suggests that 9 of the dogs were thin, in fact only four of them were below the normal weight range for the breed, and due to the poor identification, it is not clear whether these were mature adults (i.e., could have been puppies) and so would be expected to be within the normal range.

The Vet then continued, effectively demolishing the RSPCA case:

  • I have considered whether the hall, stairs and landing were safe. I have seen no evidence of any physical hazard that posed a danger to the dogs. I note the alleged presence of fly eggs, surprisingly not recorded photographically, but neither their existence nor their ingestion posed any actual risk to the dogs.

  • I have considered whether the kitchen was safe. It was cluttered, but no hazards such as broken glass, exposed electrical wires etc. were recorded contemporaneously or photographically.

  • I have considered whether the garden was safe. Again, there was a lot of clutter, but again no specific proven hazards.

  • I have considered whether the sheds were hazardous, but no specific hazards were identified in the one shed photographed.

  • I have considered the fenced off area. No specific hazards were noted contemporaneously.

  • There was reference to the presence of bones. These are a natural food source/toy for dogs rather than a hazard. It might conceivably be suggested that bones could splinter and pose a risk of injury, but no such hazard was recorded contemporaneously.

  • The test of whether an environment is realistically hazardous is whether it has had any adverse effect in the past. In this case despite such a large number of dogs, i.e., a large number of potential 'victims' of any hazards, I have seen no evidence disclosed of any recent injury as a result.

  • It is significant that no pools of urine were recorded contemporaneously in the house or the sheds.

  • It is significant that although Ms. Hamilton gives the impression that there were dog faeces everywhere this is not borne out photographically. Only in the garden - where it might be expected anyway - are any faeces recorded photographically. Considering that 29 dogs would be expected to produce on average at least 60 piles of faeces a day, and that when excited, as these dogs were reported to be during the visit by strangers, they would produce even more faeces, the absence of piles of faeces is remarkable (emphasis added).

  • Ms. Bashford suggests that faeces and/or hair had been ground into carpets, but it is unclear how closely she investigated to prove this. Nor was this recorded contemporaneously in her notebook.


Independent Vet Summary


A large number of small dogs were kept in various environments at the defendant's property. No actual hazards were reported in the environment. The level of faecal contamination was low.


On 17 April 2017, the Wiggins’ applied to the CCRC for a review of their conviction. Eighteen months later, on 19 September 2018, the CCRC informed them that their submission was being rejected.


The CCRC said:


“On 2 July 2015 at Burton-Upon-Trent Magistrates' Court, you were convicted of Animal Cruelty under Section 9 of the Animal Welfare Act 2006, after failing to take reasonable steps to ensure that the needs of the animals (dogs) you were responsible for were met. Namely, a safe clean environment, adequate protection from hazards and a clean, dry rest area. You were disqualified from keeping a dog for 12 months, given a three-year conditional discharge and ordered to pay a victim surcharge and costs totaling £1,015. It was alleged at trial that, when inspected, your property was found to be unsuitable for the large number of dogs (29) kept at your home. You appealed against your conviction by way of a rehearing at the Crown Court. On 8 February 2016, the Crown Court reaffirmed your Magistrates' Court conviction and increased the length of disqualification to three years and increased costs to a total of £2,750”.


The crux of the matter is that the suitability of the house and garden for keeping 29 dogs is disputed and, indeed, the independent veterinary surgeon Mr. Vogel, expressed no concerns whatsoever about the conditions.


Therefore, the court has sided with the RSPCA on the issue. It should perhaps be noted that the house and garden were actually very clean given the number of dogs present and, in July, there was no issue with any rest areas being dry.


The entire case seems to be based on the RSPCA view that no domestic house and garden can possibly house 29 dogs in safety and comfort, but this seems unproven based upon what we know. Yes, 29 dogs is a lot of dogs, but the neighbours had not complained of either noise or smell and only three small pieces of dog excrement were found in the garden, an astonishingly small amount.


Evidence: The CCRC view:


The Wiggins’ feel that evidence for their defence was not presented to the court, while the CCRC says that an adequate defence was provided to the court. The CCRC said:


“You claim that various photographs, and multiple statements, were not put before the courts. These include letters from your mother's doctor, a carer, neighbours, social services, and dog groomers. Together, these present a vastly different portrayal of the condition of your home and of the dogs, than that presented by the prosecution.


The CCRC observes that the time to adduce such evidence was at trial and/or on appeal and that the failure to do so may be viewed negatively by the court in the event of a further rehearing.


Further, the CCRC observes your claim that the statements were written to the court, but not presented. In such circumstances, the CCRC considers that the non-presentation of this material would be seen by the Court as indicative of a legitimate tactical decision by the defence.


The CCRC has assessed the submitted photographs (showing three dogs) and does not consider that these raise a real possibility that a further rehearing of your case would result in a different outcome. This is because photographs of all the dogs, with close-up images of various concerns, were presented at trial and on appeal, where it was open to you to highlight those photographs that you considered assisted the defence or undermined the prosecution. It has never been suggested that the images presented at trial and appeal were fabricated.”


Thus, the CCRC fell back on what are very familiar arguments for rejecting the Wiggins’ request for their case to be reconsidered. The case is depressingly typical to anyone familiar to the approach of the CCRC and the appeal court. The Wiggins were punished by the appeal court with an increased sentence and increased fines. The CCRC has second-guessed the likelihood of any further consideration of the case by the appeal court and dismissed the possibility. The CCRC also said that they would strenuously defend themselves should the Wiggins seek a judicial review.

In the meantime, the Wiggins continue to suffer from what appears to be a vindictive RSPCA prosecution.


Rosemary commented:


“My dogs were/are my world, the hope of getting them home is keeping me going. Most were senior when taken/stolen illegally, my eldest shih tzu Chelsea was born on the 5th of Dec 2005 she was also grieving for my eldest tzu her best friend who died 6 months earlier. I told Bashford this, but she just shrugged her shoulders. It's killing me, I’m not the same person I once was, I was happy go lucky, but now I have break downs and cry most of the time, I have high blood pressure and PTSD because of it, I have flash backs and nightmares, where I wake up screaming, it’s horrid, I just want them home my arms have been aching and longing to hold them and cuddle them for so long. 3 small piles of poo in the garden by 21 adults and 8 puppies that’s all there was and none in the house, they said the hall carpet was grounded in dog mess but their own pictures proved it was laminate flooring with no poo in sight. My health is so bad now and Pauls too because what happened. That cop spoke to me like shit that day and he got away with all his illegal wrong doings, the IOPC covered it all up, there is not anything in police files to say that day ever happened, that day has been wiped off police records like it never happened we asked for extensive searches, but they still say there’s nothing of that day on police records. That cop was the main witness and the perjury he committed is unreal, they all committed perjury, but the judges just turned blind eyes, the corruption is very deep.”


References

[i] There are clear similarities with a case of a farmer, prosecuted by the RSPCA, found not guilty, but out of pocket by £70,000 to clear his name. See Unlawful arrests and the RSPCA – Iain Gould- Actions Against the Police Solicitor [ii] Unlawful arrests and the RSPCA – Iain Gould- Actions Against the Police Solicitor [iii]1 Subject to paragraph 5.4, if it is proposed to search premises with the consent of a person entitled to grant entry the consent must, if practicable, be given in writing on the Notice of Powers and Rights before the search. The officer must make any necessary enquiries to be satisfied the person is in a position to give such consent. (See Notes 5A and 5B.) 5.2 Before seeking consent the officer in charge of the search shall state the purpose of the proposed search and its extent. This information must be as specific as possible, particularly regarding the articles or persons being sought and the parts of the premises to be searched. The person concerned must be clearly informed they are not obliged to consent, that any consent given can be withdrawn at any time, including before the search starts or while it is underway, and anything seized may be produced in evidence. If at the time the person is not suspected of an offence, the officer shall say this when stating the purpose of the search. 5.3 An officer cannot enter and search or continue to search premises under paragraph 5.1 if consent is given under duress or withdrawn before the search is completed. 5.4 It is unnecessary to seek consent under paragraphs 5.1 and 5.2 if this would cause disproportionate inconvenience to the person concerned.


Bill Robertson has researched alleged miscarriages of justice for around 20 years and advised on several cases, including the most recent application to the CCRC by Jeremy Bamber. He serves as Deputy Editor of CCRC Watch.


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