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Friday, 25 April 2014

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Cumbrian animal neglect couple speak out for first time

A couple who were banned from keeping animals after inspectors found 73 dogs living in appalling conditions at their farm say the pets were their “family.”

Bridge Farm photo
Bridge Farm, home to Robert Park and his wife Linda Faulder-Park

Robert Park and his wife Linda Faulder-Park have spoken publicly for the first time since the RSPCA and animal welfare officials took them to court over the squalid conditions at their home.

They were given the ban plus suspended jail sentences after they admitted a raft of animal welfare offences.

The couple invited the News & Star into their home at Scales, near Aspatria, and spoke about the prosecution and the shocking conditions that they and their animals – including 20 cats, and dozens of cattle, sheep, and pigs – have been living in.

They said they are now struggling to come to terms with the prospect of living on a farm with no animals.

For many people, the conditions at the couple’s remote Bridge Farm would beggar belief. Many window frames are rotten, glass either broken or missing, and the inside is devoid of comfort.

The only heating is from the coal fire in the couple’s tiny uncarpeted living room. The water supply comes from a blue pipe that Mr Park, 54, has connected to the taps.

Any cooking the couple do is on the open fire, said Mrs Faulder-Park, 57, who is registered disabled, and suffers from the chronic lung condition COPD.

“We never had any children of our own,” she said.

“Those animals were our family. We used to take in stray dogs, but sometimes people brought them to us.

“If you had 12 kids you wouldn’t get rid of them, would you? We’d let the dogs out in the morning, and they loved running into the house. We know there were too many of them but you can’t just throw them out.”

RSPCA officials said last week they were horrified at the conditions they found in the couple’s three bedroom farm house, which sits at the end of a long boggy lane. Photos taken on the day the inspectors arrived in January only hint at its dereliction, its walls, floors, and furniture caked in filth – conditions which RSPCA inspector Chris Towler said were fit for neither man nor beast.

The charity accepted that the suffering they uncovered resulted not from any desire to hurt the animals but from the couple’s neglect.

Mr Towler said the Parks had a duty to ask for the help they needed to care properly for their animals.

The couple suggested their plight was down partly to sheer bad luck: a dispute with the farm’s owner that has left the property semi-derelict.

“This farm is in a dip, and it regularly floods,” said Mrs Faulder-Park, pointing to mould that stains the wall outside to a height of 4ft.

“We’ve had water coming through the front door.

“I’m not saying everything here was spotless, but what I am saying is that we put them animals first.”

As Mrs Faulder-Park paused, the sound of a sheep bleating could be heard at the back door. Mr Park led us into the muddy yard, where a plump looking sheep stared curiously as we emerged.

Glumly, he pointed to the sheep, now the sole survivor of the farm’s livestock, saying: “That’s Babe.

“We found her in one of the fields after the animal welfare people had gone. They say we’ve got to get rid of her by November 21.

“We gave her a name – it was like that with all our animals.”

Mrs Faulder-Park said: “It didn’t help that I had an accident on the farm. I fell and hurt my leg, and the injury turned into a chronic ulcer. I nearly lost my leg.

“But when they took those animals it was like they took our lives with them.”

Asked if they plan to have their home repaired before the onset of freezing winter weather, Mrs Faulder-Park shrugged, and said: “We can’t make any plans: what’s the point?”

In the meantime, Mr Park has been told that he can continue to milk cows, though under supervision.

The judge in their case ruled that they can repay their joint legal costs of £24,000 at a rate of £5 per week each, which means they would need 39 years to settle the debt.

Speaking after the case, the RSPCA's Mr Towler said: “It was one of the worst scenes I have come across. The whole situation was very sad in human terms.”

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