Animal Justice Project has carried out a shocking two-month undercover investigation capturing 200 hours of footage appearing to include animal abuse and suffering.
Animal Justice Project has carried out a shocking two-month undercover investigation [1] between January and February 2021 capturing 200 hours of footage appearing to include animal abuse and suffering, extensive legislative breaches, and a failure of the government vet to prevent breaches inside small, family-owned G & G B Hewitt Ltd in Chester. CCTV, the NGO claims, was present inside the abattoir, as required by law [2], yet did not act as a deterrent, and the abattoir has been deemed ‘generally satisfactory’ by the Government’s own food watchdog, ‘Food Standards Agency’ (FSA) for six years [3]. The findings, which were sent to FSA, are backed by former UK government Deputy Chief Veterinary Officer and former FSA Veterinary Director, Alick Simmons. Animal Justice Project is calling for an urgent and independent review into UK slaughterhouses, and a cessation of public funding for abattoirs under the new Agriculture Act, 2020 [4].

VIDEO: (‘clean’ version available upon request)

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Main Findings

- ‘Suckling’ piglet appearing to be alive in a scalding hot water tank. Piglets having throats cut, then being thrown onto a pile with no checking of signs of life, and finally being thrown into the water

- The FSA-appointed Official Veterinarian (OV) - supposed to “ensure that all animal welfare requirements are met to ensure that animals are spared avoidable pain, distress or suffering” [5] - was not filmed entering the stun or kill rooms. She remained in the lairage, ignoring workers brutally and illegally using both an electric cattle prod and pointed stick on bulls whilst they were yelled at. By not entering the stun room, the vet will have missed pre-stun shocks on animals, poor handling, failing stun equipment, insufficient stun times, and signs of consciousness

- Cows and bulls beaten with a cattle prod in the lairage chute by workers and the manager, Mark Hewitt, when the animals had nowhere to go. A clear breach of slaughter legislation, WATOK (Welfare of Animals at Time of Killing) [6]. Also jabbing the prod and a pointed stick - against guidance [7] - on animals’ necks, faces, and anuses, and not leaving time between jabs - as many as 18 times in 15 seconds. All breaches of law [6]. One distressing scene goes on for over 40 minutes, with bulls being violently jabbed over 200 times

-  Short stun times, as little as one second, and poor stunning of pigs and sheep, for example, workers giving pre-stun shocks to faces. Animals, apparently conscious, were documented kicking out and gasping whilst hanging after stun

- The immediate cutting/dressing of pigs’ legs following ‘sticking’ and whilst pigs thrashed on shackles, thus not allowing enough time for the animals to bleed out. The manager also cut into the ankles of seven pigs almost immediately after bleed out. Another clear breach of WATOK which states that ‘you must wait at least 20 seconds for pigs prior to dressing and confirm there are no signs of life beforehand’ [6]

- On four of eight days filmed by Animal Justice Project stunning equipment failed, causing panic and distress to pigs and sheep

-  Long ‘stun-to-kill’ times. Of the 198 pigs and sheep filmed by Animal Justice Project being slaughtered, only six had their throats cut within the 15 seconds of stun recommended by the FSA and Humane Slaughter Association [8]. So 97% of animals slaughtered had time to regain consciousness before having their throats cut. For example, on 11 February a pig was bled out 128 seconds after stun, on 12 February a cow was bled out 98 seconds after stun and, on 8 February, a sheep 36 seconds. During filming no worker was observed checking animals for signs of consciousness - a further breach of WATOK, which states ‘between stunning and killing, you must check animals for signs of consciousness and unconsciousness’ [6]

- CCTV, which is mandatory in England [2] and has has recently become mandatory in Scotland [9], failed to prevent extensive abuse and breaches

Alick Simmons, former UK government Deputy Chief Veterinary Officer and former FSA Veterinary Director states: “There are number of instances where apparent breaches of the law are shown - incorrect use of electric goads, cattle repeatedly struck with a stick (one appears to be pointed and the law prohibits the use of pointed sticks), a sheep dragged by the horns, severely lame cattle, and one severely lame pig being presented for slaughter. Such animals are not fit to be transported. In several instances, immediately after 'sticking', slaughtermen are seen to start dressing pig carcasses. The law requires that pigs are bled for a minimum of 20 seconds. The overall impression given is of routine poor practice in premises barely fit for purpose. The circumstances are made worse by poorly trained and poorly supervised operatives. For example the handling, stunning and killing of piglets is barely adequate, the stunning equipment appears to fail on several occasions, repeated shouting by the operatives simply adds to the animals' distress and, at no time, are operatives seen to monitor the effectiveness of the stun.”

The investigation follows a January review of WATOK [10] in which Defra took evidence from stakeholders including the British Veterinary Association (BVA), the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) and FSA [10]. The BVA welcomed the review but afterwards called on the government to’ commit to making the improvements outlined in the report’ [11].

It also follows six years of FSA classifying Chester-based Hewitt as “Generally Satisfactory ” in audits [12]. The FSA does not subject slaughterhouses to unannounced inspections [13] and an analysis of published audit data [12] by Animal Justice Project reveals a low number of breaches reported within UK slaughterhouses over the past year: Out of 4 million cows, pigs, sheep and goats slaughtered in slaughterhouses, just 3,604 animals were reported as being subjected to non-compliances over 291 cases, and a mere 3.4% led to an investigation [12].

Despite FSA reportedly responding to a Freedom of Information request on daily breaches recorded by their veterinarians in 2016 [14], Animal Justice Project was refused this information [15] and it is not currently available to the public.

Claire Palmer, founder of Animal Justice Project states: “Our 200-hour undercover investigation, which took place following an industry-led review of UK slaughter legislation in January, reveals extensive suffering and abuse, as well as law-breaking. Right under the nose of the government vet, and CCTV. A piglet clearly alive in a scalding tank, bulls beaten for over 40 minutes, and workers, including the manager, ignoring the law as they hack into the throats and legs of sheep and pigs whilst the animals are still thrashing. These were daily occurrences within this Chester-based abattoir and yet the government’s own watchdog stamped the facility with its seal of approval for at least six years. We believe issues are being unseen and under-reported. Instead of ploughing public funding into the abattoir sector, at a time when even the United Nations is pushing governments to promote plant-based eating, it must urgently address the fact that the system is failing farmed animals at their time of death”.

Animal Justice Project is calling on Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, George Eustice to oversee an immediate review of WATOK that is independent of FSA and NFU. Additionally, the NGO is calling on the government to halt plans to use public funds for UK slaughterhouses under the Agriculture Act 2020 [4, 16], including smaller, family-owned abattoirs, like Hewitt, through the "Abattoir Sector Group (ASG)” [17].

Animal Justice Project is an animal protection NGO campaigning to end cruel animal farming practices and advocate a vegan diet


Claire Palmer, MSc Zoology

Founder, Animal Justice Project


T: + 44(0) 7851 497 827







[3] Food Standard Agency Meat Establishment Audit data (2014 - 2021)










[13] FOI, per comms, 25 May 2021


[15] FOI refusal, per comms, 8 June 2021



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