UK

Woman cleared of cruelty to pony hits out at damage caused by social media

Sarah Moulds was supported by family and friends throughout the trial (Callum Parke/PA)
Sarah Moulds was supported by family and friends throughout the trial (Callum Parke/PA) Sarah Moulds was supported by family and friends throughout the trial (Callum Parke/PA)

A woman who was cleared of cruelty to one of her horses has said that the damage caused by a “trial by social media” is “irreversible” and that she received hand-delivered death threats because of the incident.

Sarah Moulds was found not guilty of causing unnecessary suffering to a protected animal, a grey child’s pony named Bruce Almighty, after a trial at Lincoln Crown Court on Friday.

She had been seen kicking and slapping the animal in the space of four seconds on a video taken by hunt saboteurs after she and Bruce had taken part in a foxhound hunt on November 6 2021.

The 39-year-old, as well as friends and family who have supported her throughout the trial, gasped and wept as the verdict was delivered after five hours of jury deliberation.

Speaking outside court, Mrs Moulds said the verdict was “a testament to the importance of due process” and showed “there are two sides to every story”.

She also revealed that she and her family had received death threats – including one in a Christmas card delivered to her home – over the incident, claiming in her evidence that her family had to go “into hiding” for several days due to the backlash.

She said: “It is profoundly troubling that, in this digital age, misinformation can spread like wildfire, leading to premature judgments and jeopardising the lives and careers of innocent individuals.

“A snippet of video was taken out of context, and manipulated to paint a picture of me that is entirely at odds with who I am.

Sarah Moulds court case
Sarah Moulds court case A screengrab of the incident involving Sarah Moulds and Bruce Almighty (RSPCA/PA)

“I adore my animals and have dedicated my life to teaching and nurturing young minds; it was heart-wrenching to be so wrongly and publicly maligned.

“It is crucial to understand that what we see on the internet, especially on platforms like Twitter and Facebook, is often a fragmented version of the truth.

“The jury’s decision today has vindicated me, however, the damage from the last 20 months’ trial by social media is irreversible.

“The loss of my career, the hand-delivered death threats to me and my children, and the distress caused to my family cannot be undone.

Sarah Moulds court case
Sarah Moulds court case Sarah Moulds told the court she had made ‘minimal contact’ with the pony (Jacob King/PA)

“My loved ones have had to watch powerlessly as our life has unravelled based on falsehoods.”

Mrs Moulds lost her job as a teacher in Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire, a month after the incident in Lincolnshire, and was charged by the RSPCA in January 2022.

The organisation had said that Bruce, who is still owned by Mrs Moulds, was fearful of his owner’s actions and had “suffered physically and mentally” as a result, a claim rejected by a jury of 11 men and one woman following a three-day trial.

However, the RSPCA never examined Bruce, who was instead seen by an independent vet 10 days later and found to be “in very good health”, with no signs of external or internal injury found.

In her statement, during which she wept several times, Mrs Moulds claimed the body had been pressured to act after the footage of the incident was posted to social media.

She said: “I would also like to raise our concerns about the RSPCA’s conduct during this case.

“They are an animal charity, whose concern is animal welfare. They are the only charity in the UK with the power to prosecute.

“They have been pressured to be seen to be doing something by online bullies and ill-informed high-profile individuals, wasting a phenomenal amount of public donations to bring a politically charged case.

“At no point over the last 20 months have they asked to examine Bruce Almighty, my child’s pony, to see the environment in which he was looked after, or to check for injuries sustained.

“If they had visited Bruce on the day after this incident, or indeed any day in the last year and a half, they would have met a perfectly healthy, well-cared-for and happy pony – as verified by an independent veterinary practice at our request.”

The RSPCA said following the verdict that they respected the jury’s decision but denied it had been pressured into action.

A spokesperson said: “We do not take the decision to bring prosecution lightly. We apply the same tests as the Crown Prosecution Service to decide whether to prosecute someone for animal welfare offences.

“This requires there to be sufficient evidence for a realistic prospect of conviction and for it to be in the public interest to prosecute.

“This case was reviewed by a prosecution case manager, an independent solicitor and a barrister who all agreed that the evidential test was met and with the support of two expert vets.

“We accept the court’s decision today and thank the jury for their careful consideration, but the public can be assured the RSPCA will always look into concerns that are raised to us about animal neglect and cruelty.”