Woman accused of punching horse tries to warn off media coverage of case

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Mrs Moulds was filmed during an incident following the Cottesmore Hunt

A former primary school teacher charged with slapping a horse has gone to the press regulator to demand that newspapers do not take her photograph outside court.

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Sarah Moulds, 37, is being prosecuted by the RSPCA for animal cruelty after being filmed allegedly hitting and kicking a pony named Bruce.

Ahead of a first court appearance on January 31, Mrs Moulds, a mother-of-two, contacted the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) because she and 18 other people, including family, friends and colleagues, did not wish to be photographed, contacted, or approached for comment.

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Mrs Moulds has requested her photograph not be taken during the trial

Mrs Moulds’ request was circulated on Thursday to newspapers regulated by IPSO, among them The Telegraph.

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The decision raises questions about why the newspaper regulator agreed to send out an advisory notice on behalf of a suspect in a criminal case. IPSO issued a new notice, stressing that it “has no knowledge as to whether” the 18 individuals, other than Mrs Moulds, were involved in the court case and that the notice “does not … seek to prevent reporting of the court proceedings”.

Mark Stephens, an experienced media lawyer and partner at Howard Kennedy solicitors, said: “We have an open justice principle and it doesn’t seem to me there is any good reason for this advisory to be circulated.

“It seems to me a completely over-reaching and inappropriate notice.”

He said some smaller newspapers without legal advice might be intimidated by the notice.

A spokesman for Index on Censorship, the campaigning body for freedom of expression, said: “The advisory does raise some questions – particularly around why as many as 19 individuals are named on it. It may have been put out for good reason, but we need more information about how and why the decision was taken to do so.”

On its website, IPSO – in advice to the public concerned about press intrusion – states: “Private advisory notices are not injunctions and they do not have legal powers. But they do put editors on notice and we know they are extremely effective at dealing with a number of concerns.”

Mrs Moulds was 'reprimanding horse'

Mrs Moulds came to prominence in November when she was filmed during an incident following the Cottesmore Hunt in countryside known as The Drift in Gunby, Lincolnshire. The Hertfordshire Hunt Saboteurs shared the footage on its Twitter page, which then went viral. Mrs Moulds, well known in local equestrian circles, lost her job as a primary school teacher having been suspended.

A family member defended her actions at the time, explaining that the horse had been “out of control”, that it had run onto the road and Mrs Moulds was “reprimanding the horse”, adding: “there was no malice intended.”

The RSPCA began an investigation and has begun a private prosecution. Mrs Moulds has now been charged with two offences under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 and is due to appear before Boston Magistrates’ Court.

According to the RSPCA she is accused of causing “unnecessary suffering to a certain animal namely a grey pony known as Bruce, by kicking and hitting the said animal and you knew or ought reasonably to have known that your acts would have that effect or be likely to do so” and a second charge of failing to take “such steps as were reasonable” to protect the pony “from pain, suffering, injury or disease”.

In the notice to editors, marked private and confidential, IPSO stated: “Editors will recall that Mrs Moulds was involved in an incident with a horse last year and may be aware that there is an upcoming court case scheduled on January 31, 2022.

“Mrs Moulds, her family, and the following individuals would like to make editors aware that they do not wish to be photographed, contacted, or approached for comment in relation to this story; their position has not changed since a previous advisory notice was issued by IPSO last year.

“We are happy to pass on this request and note the terms of Clause 2 (Privacy) and Clause 3 (Harassment) of the Editors’ Code of Practice.”

System 'highly effective for many years'

In a statement IPSO said: “Through its privacy notice system, IPSO passes on specific requests from individuals to editors and journalists under the Editors’ Code of Practice, including in relation to privacy and harassment, on a private and confidential basis. Editors retain full control of decision making.

“Because the system relies on confidentiality, it would not be appropriate to discuss the specifics of any individual notices. While any request passed on is non-binding, for many years the system has been highly effective at alerting editors and journalists about individuals who do not want to comment to the press or have concerns about possible intrusion or harassment.

“There is a public interest defence available should editors consider that there is a justification for persisting in photographing or attempting to contact an individual for comment, which applies whether the desist request has been made through an advisory notice or otherwise.

“Privacy notices do not prevent reporting on matters of public interest, including court proceedings, and do not supersede the standards set by the Editors’ Code.”

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