24 May 2024

Pressure mounts on RSPCA NSW after 500 dead horses missed on Wagga property

| Jarryd Rowley
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Wagga Wagga City Council general manager Peter Thompson

Wagga Wagga City Council general manager Peter Thompson detailed the council’s findings at the inquiry. Photo: NSW Parliament.

RSPCA NSW CEO Steven Coleman has conceded that his organisation made mistakes in its failure to locate the carcasses of 500 dead horses on a Wagga property.

The head of RSPCA NSW was questioned on Thursday [23 May] at a NSW parliamentary inquiry into the aerial killings and rehoming of brumbies in Kosciuszko National Park.

During the inquiry, Sydney broadcaster Ray Hadley – who broke the story of an illegal knackery following an alleged leak by a member of Wagga Wagga City Council (WWCC) – accused Wagga man Adrian Talbot of butchering more than 500 horses before selling them to greyhound trainers for dog meat.

Mr Hadley alleged during his questioning that Mr Talbot received more than 260 rehomed brumbies as part of the Kosciuszko National Park’s rehoming program.

Mr Hadley further alleged that Mr Talbot butchered the brumbies for dog meat before passing them on to his brother, Ben Talbot, chairman of the Wagga Wagga Greyhound Club and a member of the Greyhound Welfare & Integrity Commission’s Industry Participant Advisory Council.

As of writing, Adrian Talbot’s only charge is illegal possession of ammunition.

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According to Racing NSW CEO Wade Birch, his office alerted RSPCA about animal cruelty complaints against Mr Talbot’s property in September 2023.

RSPCA NSW visited the 20-acre property twice between September 2023 and January 2024.

On 26 April, Mr Coleman revealed during an inquiry into the prevention of animal cruelty act, that the RSPCA found no signs of misconduct during the organisation’s visit to the Wagga property.

“There were allegations of an illegal knackery and we have put questions to the person of interest, all of which have been denied,” Mr Coleman said during the April inquiry.

The RSPCA’s findings were brought into question following WWCC’s investigation into the property on 5 March.

WWCC executed its rights to power of entry into the property after several complaints were made by an anonymous source via Racing NSW.

Upon visiting the property, representatives of WWCC, NSW Police, the NSW Food Authority, Local Land Services, the Department of Primary Industries and Racing NSW found skeletal remains of more than 500 horses.

During Thursday’s inquiry, WWCC General Manager Peter Thompson was questioned about WWCC’s findings during its initial visit to the property.

Mr Thompson explained that WWCC was made aware of complaints about the property as early as 23 January and agreed to investigate. WWCC spent the next six weeks gathering the required information and evidence needed to appropriately use its power of entry.

“Everyone [all associated authorities] convened at the council chambers building early in the morning on the fifth of March and there was a briefing with everyone in the room; everyone had a clear understanding,” Mr Thompson said.

“We were specifically going to where we had been told that the carcasses had been seen, rather than going to the house and in fact we were deliberately avoiding the house.”

Mr Thompson said the owner of the property consented to WWCC and other authorities entering the property, upon which they found the remains of hundreds of dead horses.

“We drove to the location where the informant said she had seen the carcasses. The carcasses were there, but they had been fairly roughly covered by soil.

“There’s quite a substantial area. And the way I describe it is probably an area the size of a bus that had been covered over with soil.”

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Mr Thompson said the party that entered the property then split up to count the skeletons of horses to gather an accurate number.

Mr Coleman said the RSPCA only attended one of the 20 acres of the property and didn’t notify any other agencies about the investigations.

“You wouldn’t think it would be hard to miss 500 carcasses,” Mr Coleman said.

“Did they look at the other 19 acres [7 hectares]? No, they didn’t. Should we have referred this to another agency? The answer is yes.”

The current review will deliver its findings on June 14.

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