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OUTRAGEOUS: Cow-beating video thrown-out in court on the grounds it would encourage undercover filming in the future

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In assessing whether video was admissible, the judge noted Farmwatch had trespassed to obtain footage and, 'if encouraged, they will continue to gather evidence by these methods.'

FARAH HANCOCK: A New Zealand Northland contract milker caught on hidden camera beating cows with a steel pipe has had five charges against him dropped after a judge ruled the footage was obtained unlawfully. While it was agreed the footage – first exposed in a Newsroom story in 2018 – showed the mistreatment of animals, the fact animal advocates trespassed in order to obtain it led to the judge excluding the evidence.

Michael Ian Luke appeared in the Whangārei District Court Monday facing one representative charge under the Animal Welfare Act related to failing to handle dairy cows in a way that minimised the likelihood of unnecessary pain or distress. This related to hitting a cow around the legs with an alkathene pipe and a metal bar. The maximum penalty for the charge is 12 months’ imprisonment, and/or $50,000. He received a fine of $3000 plus $130 in court costs.

Judge Deidre Orchard ruled that allowing the hidden camera footage captured by animal advocacy group Farmwatch could encourage deliberate flouting of the law. She said it was “reasonable to infer that, if encouraged, they will continue to gather evidence by these methods”. The charge Luke was convicted on relied on evidence not supplied by Farmwatch.

Luke hit one cow in particular around the legs with a steel pipe so severely both legs were swollen and she struggled to walk. Case summary documents show his explanation for the treatment was there were three cows in his herd that were “grumpy bitches” and he was sick to death of them kicking “the shit” out of him or other cows. He said he faced two options: send them to slaughter or “educate” them…

Luke had previously been the subject of an animal abuse complaint to MPI made by a former worker at the farm; however, investigations by MPI found no issues. When Luke started using a steel pipe to hit the cows, MPI was contacted again but the worker said MPI told them the case was closed and nothing more could be done without proof.

When Newsroom reported on the story in 2018, the farm worker said they felt as if they had hit a brick wall: “We went through the right channels. We went to the owner first, nothing was done. We went to MPI, nothing was done. We didn’t want to leave it.” The worker contacted Farmwatch about the situation and the organisation placed hidden cameras in the milking shed. These captured a month of footage which the group then supplied to MPI on June 21. MPI searched the property June 28, the same day Newsroom published a story.

Luke objected to the admissibility of the video evidence captured. In assessing whether it was admissible, Judge Orchard noted it was not the first time Farmwatch had trespassed to obtain footage: “…it is reasonable to infer that, if encouraged, they will continue to gather evidence by these methods … there is at least an element of vigilantism here”.

She said while any right-minded person would be sympathetic to the cause of stopping mistreatment of animals, there were “real dangers in individuals or organisations operating without authority of oversight and using methods which are unlawful”. Based on her ruling, the footage, which she called “cogent evidence”, was obtained unlawfully, and five charges against Luke were dropped. SOURCE…

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