Three workers and the boss of a halal abattoir have admitted causing unnecessary suffering to sheep as they were being killed following a three-year battle to bring the case to court.
Shocking undercover footage of slaughterhouse brutality at the Bowood Lamb abattoir near Thirsk, North Yorkshire, in December 2014 provoked a public outcry.
The secret filming by Animal Aid showed workers ‘hacking and sawing’ at animals’ throats, as well as sheep being kicked in the head and hurled into metal walls.
All abattoirs must be approved by the Food Standards Agency, but the regulatory body does not check whether halal meat is prepared according to religious rules.
The law requires abattoirs to stun animals before slaughter to prevent unnecessary suffering, but there are exemptions for Jewish and Muslim producers.
Under the halal code, animals are supposed to be killed quickly, with a single sweep of a surgically-sharp knife. They should not see the knife before they are slaughtered, or witness the death of other animals.
But the Animal Aid video revealed how many of those practices were being flouted.
Its secretly installed spy cameras showed staff taunting the animals, waving knives in front of them, smacking them on the head and shouting at them.
The footage led to calls by campaigners for CCTV to be installed in all abattoirs to prevent similar cruelty, and a ban on the practice of killing animals without stunning them first, which is allowed for Jewish and Muslim producers.
Last year the FSA announced CCTV was being made compulsory in all slaughterhouses across England.
On Monday the case against the men got underway at Northallerton Magistrates Court where a four-day trial was due to be held after they pleaded not guilty to the charges.
The men changed their pleas to guilty in some of the charges relating to offences committed between December 1 and 9 2014.
Artur Lewandowski, 33, from Darlington, admitted a charge of causing unnecessary suffering to four sheep by lifting them by their fleeces during the slaughter process.
Kabeer Hussain, 44, of Bradford, admitted one charge of failing to give 24 sheep sufficient time to lose consciousness after they were slaughtered.
Kazeem Hussain, 53, also from Bradford, pleaded guilty to two charges – one of not giving 19 sheep sufficient time to lose consciousness after they were slaughtered and a further charge of failing to cut the throats of six sheep in the required manner with a single cut.
William Woodward, 32, the owner of Bowood Farms Ltd, admitted failing to prevent acts by several employees that caused the animals to suffer.
A similar charge against his father, Robert, 68, was dropped after no evidence was offered by the prosecution.
The case was adjourned for reports and transferred to Leeds Magistrates Court for a hearing on March 2.
At one point, the high-profile case was declared legally void by a district judge because of delays in the prosecution being brought and evidence being passed between the Food Standards Agency and the Crown Prosecution Service.
The CPS appealed against the ruling and won permission to continue with the case.
Bowood, which once had a turnover of £29million, was sold out of administration to Yorkshire Halal Meat Supplier in 2016.
A spokesman for Animal Aid said: ‘Bowood Yorkshire Lamb was the tenth slaughterhouse in which we had filmed undercover since January 2009.
‘We didn’t know what we would find when our cameras were planted, including that it was a halal establishment – the first we had investigated. We have now investigated 14 slaughterhouses, and all but two have stunned the animals before killing them.
‘We found evidence of lawbreaking in the vast majority of slaughterhouses, including animals being kicked, punched in the face, given electric shocks, burnt with cigarettes and thrown about prior to having their throats cut.
‘By whatever method animals are killed, or whichever authority presides over the killing, there is no mercy in a slaughterhouse. The animals are traumatised. They don’t want to be killed but they are killed, and for no good reason.’