‘What do you mean, you have no ID?’ I asked the farmer, starting to feel dizzy with the mind-boggling convolution of it all.
‘They took all my personal documents. I keep asking but no one gets back to me,’ he said.
The farmer, you may remember, was the subject of a police and RSPCA raid on land near to where I live in Surrey where the RSPCA seized 123 horses, which then disappeared on to the motorway in lorries with the charity refusing to say where it was taking them.
Shortly after, I was leaked documents showing where the horses had gone. They had been split between half a dozen locations, sent to the four corners of the country, up to eight hours’ drive away.
It is bad enough that the RSPCA can disappear 123 horses from public view, and that it is in the process of applying to the courts for what is called a Section 20 order, by which it might gain legal possession of the horses, to do with as it wishes. And that a charity can do all this before it has even charged the owner with anything is astonishing.
But what blows my mind is the fact that the farmer has had personal documents confiscated, including his passport and driving licence.
How is it possible that in Great Britain in 2019 a horse dealer can be subject to a dawn raid on his farm, have all his livestock taken, and then over a month later his proof of identity is still not returned to him?
Is this man’s life meant to be put on hold so that he may not travel, drive or gain access to services while a charity investigates him? If so, he is being treated much worse than a terror suspect.
Never mind the horses disappearing, this person has effectively been disappeared, or at least rendered without certain key rights. For example, he cannot submit any Freedom of Information requests to the various bodies involved in raiding him to find out what is happening to him and why because all these organisations say is that they need photo ID before they can show him the information they hold on him.
When the farmer reminds all those involved that someone took his photo ID in the raid, no one replies.
Meanwhile, social media churns with lurid claims about the farmer’s obvious guilt. It’s not obvious to me yet. I’ve seen pictures of all the horses in RSPCA custody soon after seizure and they look pretty good for the end of winter. If the case against the farmer is going to be that some of his horses were sick or underfed, then these photos are going to be crucial evidence.
But even if you assume he must stand trial for allegedly harming animals in a way not obvious in these photos, what has happened to the presumption of innocence until proven guilty? What has happened to the notion of everyone having access to a fair trial?
How can our criminal justice system be functioning properly when a farmer in his sixties wanting to make an FOI request about why all his livestock has been confiscated by a charity has fewer people speaking up for him than a jihadi bride who wants to return from fighting for Islamic State?
But some people are speaking out. A day before the raid, planning was put in for six homes on a part of the land the farmer rents — the exact part the horses were standing on eating their hay when they were taken. After I reported this, objections to the application starting pouring in.
The council has now issued an initial refusal of the outline plans, but that does not mean the developer, who has submitted detailed case law showing how previous cases were later allowed, isn’t considering an appeal.
Those on Twitter who support the RSPCA and think I should stop complaining about these awkward details so they can get on with condemning a gypsy cob dealer for offences unspecified should ask the authorities, not me, what is going on here.
I’m just the spoilsport pointing out that the horses have been taken a long way away; that they all looked well fed; that they were taken from a 100-acre field a few weeks before spring so there would have to be some big emergency; that their owner has had his reputation torn to shreds before he is even charged; and that perhaps the powers that be should not take away someone’s ability to question what is happening to them so they can attempt to mount a fair defence of themselves.
A spokeswoman for Surrey Police said they would not have kept the farmer’s passport and driving licence. A spokeswoman for the RSPCA said: ‘In regards to the paperwork, all items that were removed as part of the investigation are being processed.’