Politics

Officials who tortured Geronimo hiding truth of his death from me, says owner


Geronimo the alpaca’s distraught owner has accused government officials of hiding from her how he was killed and how they “tortured” him on his final journey, calling for them to resign.

Helen Macdonald said giving her the truth about how her animal died was the very least officials should do after four years of “mentally abusing” her, during her prolonged legal battle to save him from being put down.

She said the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) was still ignoring her, leaving her not even knowing how Geronimo died, after government vets “bungled” his transportation.

Ms Macdonald, herself a veterinary nurse, said she felt let down by her own profession over “the worst case of cruelty” she had ever seen in her entire career.

In scenes that horrified animal lovers worldwide, police officers and vets went onto the farm without notice on Tuesday, capturing the frightened animal and forcing him into the back of a trailer as he made loud distress calls.

Experts said Geronimo was gasping for air because the government vets failed to use a headcollar so his breathing was obstructed, and he was incorrectly tied up. Where, when and how he died remains a mystery. The Independent has asked Defra for the details.

Defra had refused to allow a third test on the animal after two highly disputed tests suggested he had tuberculosis, insisting he be killed as part of the government’s TB eradication plan.

Ms Macdonald, who has also called for environment secretary George Eustice to quit, said: “We’ve expressly asked for all the circumstances of his removal and what happened to him afterwards, and they’re ignoring us.

“Somebody knows what they did to him. I don’t know whether he died in the trailer, whether he was shot or what. They won’t tell me. It’s the least they could do after what they did to him.

“They had no idea what they were doing and tortured him. They didn’t ask for help – they were cruel beyond words and incompetent. They should be struck off. I’m going to find out who they are.

“I want to know every single detail. Unless these people are dragged out by their hair, I don’t know how we’re going to find out, and that’s just unforgivable.”

In an official complaint to the government on Wednesday, the British Alpaca Society also called for those who led the operation to be suspended immediately for “gross misconduct and animal abuse”.

“If Geronimo arrived at his final destination still alive and not strangled or suffocated, how can we be sure he was humanely euthanised?” the society wrote.

“The lack of knowledge as to the correct way to handle alpacas was startling and totally inexcusable…

“It is also well documented that alpacas sit down when being transported, yet Geronimo was tied up like a horse.

“There is no excuse for these actions. The correct information is in the public domain, yet whoever led this repulsive exercise yesterday simply hadn’t bothered to find out the proper techniques.”

A planned protest outside Defra’s offices on Wednesday is expected to draw hundreds of demonstrators.

Ms Macdonald added: “They’ve been abusing me for four years, forcing me through court cases, and now they won’t even do me the courtesy of telling me how he suffered in his last moments. It’s outrageous.”

She said “someone needs to hold them to account because I can’t rest until I know”.

“And it was a vet who did it – my own profession, for Christ’s sake.”

She said it was too early to know what action she would take, adding: “This is beyond anything that anyone should have to endure.”

A crowdfunding appeal set up during her four-year court battle to fund the legal costs has raised more than £36,000.

The Independent has asked Defra to respond to the claims, in particular why it has not responded to Ms Macdonald, and why her own vet was barred from attending the post-mortem examination as an observer.

The department said removal operations “were carefully planned and conducted, and included consideration of Geronimo’s welfare”, but did not respond specifically to the claims of keeping her in the dark.

It said her vet was stopped from observing the post mortem examination “for health and safety, Covid-19 and site security reasons”.

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