South Gippsland farmer found guilty of animal cruelty over flystrike outbreak

A former South Gippsland Shire Councillor has been fined $50,000 and banned from owning or managing any animals for 10 years after he was found guilty of animal cruelty.  

Magistrate Tony Burns dismissed six of 22 charges levelled at Jeremy Rich, but was satisfied the remaining 16, including counts of aggravated animal cruelty, were true beyond a reasonable doubt. 

The Latrobe Valley Magistrates’ Court heard the charges related to 33 sheep owned by Mr Rich that were affected by flystrike, some of which were paralysed and died, but also heard contextual evidence of many more afflicted by the disease. 

Flystrike is a serious animal welfare issue where fly maggots feed off the damaged skin of a sheep host. 

The court also heard that up to 50 sheep had been found, in various states of decomposition and predation, in a pit. 

In his sentencing remarks, Magistrate Burns said Mr Rich’s failure to act had caused “amazing suffering to the sheep”. 

Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions prosecutor Liam McAuliffe said heavy punishment should be imposed to deter others. 

Former Councillor rejects decision

Mr Rich rejected the argument. 

On the second day of the hearing, Mr Rich appeared an hour late, foregoing the opportunity to cross-examine witnesses or give closing remarks. 

South Gippsland shire councillor Jeremy Rich walking outside
Jeremy RIch in Morwell(By Jarrod Whittaker (ABC Gippsland) )

Magistrate Burns started proceedings and said he was satisfied procedural fairness had been offered to Mr Rich, given “he did storm out of the court yesterday”. 

The main witness, district veterinary officer Will Hume, appeared for cross-examination by Mr Rich, but was quickly dismissed. 

Mr Rich was also ordered to pay $3,288 for the witness’s time and $4,065 in legal costs to the Department. 

It came after Mr Rich was warned he may be at risk of being found in contempt of the court. 

Mr Rich was also ordered to pay legal costs and for the time of witnesses he had intended to cross-examine. 

Mr Rich indicated he will appeal the charges. 

“It’s quite clear that there’s impropriety here,” he said. 

“This is what leads to the breakdown of society. That’s what we’re heading for right now.”

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