On 19 August 2009 I received a report about ex-circus animals living in poor conditions and rarely allowed out of their stables.
I arrived at the location, on the outskirts of Edinburgh, and found the run-down yard where these animals were living. The farm yard was littered with old broken down circus vehicles with ‘Romano Circus’ written on the sides. On the ground by the stable unit, covered in a tarpaulin sheet, was a dead guanaco – a type of llama. Beside the dead animal there were black bin liners, full of animal waste.
Further along the building I found an open door and so I stepped into the unit. Once my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I could make out the shapes of animals living inside this old run down shed. Four ponies stood in concrete pens and further along, in a different part of the building, were a donkey and two llamas. I could only see these animals clearly by using my video light. There was no electricity and thus no artificial lighting in the shed. I wondered what winter was like for the animals, especially if – as I had been told – they were seldom let out into the daylight for exercise.
To get a better picture of the day-to-day care of the animals I wanted to speak to their owner. The following day I visited the site again and spoke to Julian Morrison in his yard. He told me stories of travelling across the UK with ‘Circus Romano’ and he even claimed to be planning to go back out on the road in the future and was looking at obtaining bison, zebra and palomino horses from Prague. He said that he was one of only five registered animal trainers in Scotland and that in the past he had trained many species of wild animals including big cats.
Mr Morrison admitted that his ponies, donkey and llamas rarely, if at all, went out as he was afraid that they would escape from the paddock. He did say that in the past, when they were let out, they would be tethered.
I decided I should pass the information that I had gathered onto the Scottish SPCA for them to investigate further. The following day, Inspectors arrived at the site and removed four ponies and the donkey. Sadly, two of the four ponies were later humanely put down due to their poor condition.
Two years passed before the case came to court in Edinburgh. I was concerned about the slow pace of the process, but glad to know that the two ponies and donkey were living a good and happy life at a Scottish SPCA rescue centre.
Eventually, on Friday 8 July Mr Morrison appeared at Edinburgh Sheriff Court and after a three day trial he was convicted of causing unnecessary suffering (Section 19 of the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006). Sentencing was deferred for a medical report, to assess whether Mr Morrison was fit to keep animals.
On 22 July, the medical report was read and the Sheriff allowed Mr Morrison to have the two remaining ponies and the donkey returned from the rescue centre where they had spent the past two years. As I understood it, his only penalty for the animal cruelty conviction was that he could not obtain any more ponies or donkeys.
I was disappointed – and mystified. This was the same court that convicted Mr Morrison only two weeks previously for causing animal suffering. Anyone who knows about animal cruelty cases will tell you that it is a challenge to get a case into court – the legal system sets the bar pretty high. So, when an owner is taken to court and convicted of causing animal suffering, surely that is proof enough that he is not able to care for his animals.
Two ponies had to be put out of their misery – but after two long years, the surviving ponies and the donkey had to go back to the place where they had lived so long in the dark and the dirt. Where is the justice for these animals?