Animal activists who broke into a chicken farm are facing court.
Animal activists who broke into a chicken farm are facing court.

Animal activists blamed for ‘trampled, suffocated’ chooks

They were supposed to be part of a "Hen Rescue" liberating chickens but two animal activists admitted to breaking into a southwest Sydney farm as part of the operation in which a number of chooks were inadvertently "suffocated".

Vanessa Lee Burton and Alicia Toner have pleaded guilty to trespass and stealing. They ­appeared among nine activists in Liverpool Local Court yesterday over the incident on June 21 last year.

Andrew Faulkner, 46, a primary school DJ known as Andy Pandy, has pleaded guilty to a charge of assaulting police but not guilty to trespass and stealing offences. The remainder of those in court have all entered not guilty pleas.

Animal activist Vanessa Lee Burton pleaded guilty to trespass and stealing after the incident. Picture: John Grainger
Animal activist Vanessa Lee Burton pleaded guilty to trespass and stealing after the incident. Picture: John Grainger


According to police, the Mowbray Park farm was already under investigation by the RSPCA for the mistreatment of chickens when activists, including some from NSW Hen Rescue, decided to take matters into their own hands and attempted to remove the birds.

It is alleged just before midnight around 30 people dressed in "matching blue overalls" jumped a fence and headed towards a big chicken shed while carrying plastic animal carriers.

Police allege the protesters then removed a door on the shed before they startled a big flock of chickens, causing the chooks to panic and ­attempt to flee.

"This has caused a number of chickens to be trampled and suffo­cated - numerous chickens were killed," a police fact sheet alleged.

A still image taken from a video posted to the Hen Rescue NSW Facebook page at the Mowbray Park property.
A still image taken from a video posted to the Hen Rescue NSW Facebook page at the Mowbray Park property.

RSPCA inspectors on site later ­allegedly told police that the plastic carriers were allegedly "grossly overfilled which also caused undue stress and injury to the birds".

In court yesterday, Magistrate Meagan Keogh said it was unclear whether the deaths of the birds could be attributed to "either cruelty by the owner or what occurred on the day".

"But it seems to be there is, at its highest, some evidence that the events of that day led to some of the deaths or injuries," Ms Keogh said.

NSW Hen Rescue founder Catherine Smith, who has pleaded not guilty to trespass and stealing the chickens, told the court she had been speaking to Animal Justice Party MP Mark Pearson as a "go-between" with the RSPCA, and wanted to work with the animal welfare organisation to save the chickens.

NSW Hen Rescue claimed these chickens were being kept in poor conditions at the Mowbray Park property. Picture: Facebook
NSW Hen Rescue claimed these chickens were being kept in poor conditions at the Mowbray Park property. Picture: Facebook

"My intention was to help the RSPCA," she said. "I made it clear that it would be, I think … in the hen's interests to work together with the RSPCA because we could find a large database of homes (for the hens)."

However, Ms Smith told the court that she and others decided to go into the farm after seeing RSPCA officers leave without any of the birds.

NSW Hen Rescue says on its website its mission is to "rescue, rehabilitate and rehome ex-factory farmed hens and advocate kindness".

Those arrested were originally also charged with animal cruelty offences but those were later dismissed in court. The matter will next return to court today where Ms Smith will continue to give evidence.