Bobby Roberts, owner of the Bobby Roberts Super Circus in the U.K., has been found guilty of causing suffering to the elephant Annie. But the judge has basically let him go scot free.
In April 2011, Animal Defenders International (ADI) revealed shocking undercover video footage of abuse and torture that was being meted out to Annie, principally by one of the circus hands, Nicolai Nitu, who has since reportedly fled to his home in Romania.
Annie, then 57 years old, was rescued and taken to the Longleat Safari Park, where she could soon be seen playing in the sand and doing all the things she’d been deprived of her whole life.
Roberts was found guilty of mistreating Annie and of failing to prevent circus hand Nitu from beating her. Roberts testified that he would never have condoned this behavior. But the video, which showed Annie being repeatedly kicked and struck with a pitchfork, told a different story, and in one recording shown to the court, Roberts can be seen entering the barn and kicking Annie on her trunk. As chief prosecutor Helen Law told the jury:
“One clip which is quite illuminating about how these staff were taught to look after these animals and that is the clip of the footage which shows Bobby Roberts kicking the elephant’s trunk in front of the same staff member.
“Here you have the member of staff, who Bobby Roberts says he adequately trained, seeing Mr. Roberts kick the elephant and then doing the same thing himself 14 days later.
“Much of the violence took place in front of other staff members, that suggests a problem that is endemic and that the staff weren’t concerned being seen using violence on the animals.”
Roberts also failed to ensure the elephant’s needs were met by not giving her medication for her arthritis, and the video showed her chained in a barn by a front foot and a hind leg, to the point where her legs would simply buckle under her. The chains were only undone once a week so that they could be reattached to the opposite leg. (Roberts again claimed ignorance of all this.)
Incredibly, Judge David Chinnery seemed to ignore the verdict of the jury, and instead praised Roberts:
“You are a man who has not previously been convicted of any offence and it is to your credit that you have cared for and managed animals for the greater part of your 70 years without criticism from any quarter.”
The judge said the chaining of Annie was serious, but that the real cruelty had been inflicted by Nitu. He said that Roberts had an exemplary record of animal husbandry, had suffered enough punishment since his offences came to light, and was unlikely to appear in court again.
“As a result of what has happened your business is effectively at an end. You have lost everything which you have built up over the last five decades. I am told that you have no funds at all.”
The judge also blamed ADI for having released its video to the media, thus causing Roberts to be “tried by the public.”
“This is an emotive case involving as it does acts of extreme cruelty to a defenseless animal. Whilst ADI may claim that their actions had the desired effect, namely the removal of the elephant from its plight, there are two concerns which I have.
“They effectively ‘sat on’ the evidence for two months, leaving the elephant where she was, and, secondly, my experience of dealing with ‘animal cruelty’ cases usually brought by the RSPCA leads me to understand that, if the plight of such an animal is reported to the RSPCA immediately, they will take steps to ensure the safety of the animal without delay and if appropriate work with the owner to re-home the animal or ensure its future in its current environment.
“The conclusion to which I am drawn therefore is that Anne’s welfare was only a part of the objective by ADI; they have a wider agenda, much of which has been alluded to by defense counsel.”
He added that releasing the video to the media had had “the potential to jeopardize the right to a fair trial.”
“This couple [Roberts and his wife] have been tried by the public who have only the footage of the cruelty to the animal upon which to make a judgment. This has resulted in personal vilification of both of the defendants both by members of the public and from my own observations by members of the press.”
And with that, Judge Chinnery gave Roberts a conditional discharge. He added that it would be “disproportionate” to ban Roberts from keeping animals.
After hearing the verdict, deputy chief prosecutor Richard Crowley said, “Bobby Roberts had clear responsibilities for this elephant’s welfare, which he willfully neglected when he treated her appallingly. Anne was kept chained up, beaten regularly and suffered significantly as a result. He gave instructions for Anne to be chained and took no action to prevent the beatings she had received, failing to provide any training or supervision for the staff member responsible for her.”
Jan Creamer, chief executive of ADI, said: “Despite the considerable suffering caused to Anne the elephant, the sentencing meted out to Mr. Roberts is derisory and provides no faith that the Animal Welfare Act can protect animals in circuses.”
Creamer said that Annie’s health is improving at Longleat. “She’s getting proper treatment for her arthritis, she’s building muscle, so just by looking at her.”