Wildlife rescue wins appeal against council notice

Geoff Grewcock holding one of the resident owls
Nuneaton & Warwickshire Wildlife Sanctuary has cared for more than 100,000 animals since being founded by Geoff Grewcock in 2001 [BBC]

An animal rescue has won an appeal against a council abatement notice imposed after complaints about odour.

Nuneaton & Warwickshire Wildlife Sanctuary, based on a residential street in the town, has cared for more than 100,000 animals since 2001.

The notice was imposed by the borough council in May 2022 after three complaints were made about smells from the Oaston Road sanctuary.

District Judge David Wain announced the decision at Birmingham Magistrates' Court on Tuesday. The council said it would consider the judgment and reflect on the decision.

The case was adjourned to 9 July to deal with the issue of costs.

The rescue was founded by Geoff Grewcock, 74, and is co-managed by daughter Emma Hudson, who said they reduced capacity by 50% after the order and overhauled the cleaning regime.

Speaking after Tuesday's announcement, Mrs Hudson, 41, said she was "ecstatic" and felt proud "we fought hard for something we believe in".

She added: "We're just little people and we took a whole council on."

Minty the badger in her enclosure
Minty the badger is one of the rescue's permanent residents, after the rest of her family were killed in an act of violent animal cruelty [BBC]

Mrs Hudson said the authority decided to investigate in 2021 and "they performed what the district judge today called a complete investigation and that no nuisance was found".

The co-manager added subsequent investigations, following more complaints, "were not complete and it was ruled that the odours, although unusual for a residential area, did not cause a nuisance".

The district judge heard three complaints were lodged for odour – one by a nearby resident and two anonymous ones.

The named resident said she could smell "stomach-wrenching odours".

Mrs Hudson made an allegation that a resident had damaged a windbreaker at the border of the sanctuary, used to prevent odour travelling in the wind, meaning it was broken on a council visit day.

The resident was arrested in 2022 for harassment and criminal damage, but was released without charge due to evidential difficulties, Warwickshire Police said.

While she admitted she had been arrested, she said she had later received compensation from police.

Neighbours of the rescue said they had not smelt bad odours at the property.

Geoff Grewcock holding one of his resident foxes
Sweep the fox is one of the rescue's permanent residents as she cannot be released back into the wild [BBC]

Public support 'overwhelming'

The barrister on behalf of the rescue, Jane Sarginson, said the council did not find out how many people were affected by the alleged odour.

Nuneaton and Bedworth Borough Council stated it did not ask other neighbours about the smell in fear of giving the appearance it was "canvassing for votes".

Howard Leithead, representing the council, said it was highly unusual to have an animal sanctuary on a residential street and it was not reasonable to expect neighbours to put up with such odours.

Mr Leithead added there was "clear, lucid, compelling evidence" of statutory nuisance.

Mrs Hudson stated support for the animal rescue "in Nuneaton specifically has been overwhelming".

She said: "Members of the public have donated to help us with this case, so getting costs is putting money back into the sanctuary and will go directly to the animals."

The rescue has paid about £25,000 in legal fees to fight the abatement notice.

Such a notice is issued by a local authority if it believes that a statutory nuisance exists, has occurred or is likely to recur. If found guilty of an offence of this type, the maximum fine is £5,000 on domestic premises and £20,000 on commercial premises.

A council spokesperson said it was disappointed to learn of Tuesday's outcome handed down by the judge on the appeal.

The authority added that it "has a statutory duty to carry out investigations in response to complaints received, and did so in this instance with utmost good faith".

The spokesperson said, though, that the council accepted the decision, the authority acknowledged the sanctuary's "significant community work" and looked "to build a productive relationship moving forward".

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