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Greyhound live baiting: Nine of 22 trainers had life bans cut

The live baiting scandal was revealed in February 2015. Photo: Craig Golding Greyhound trainer Tom Noble pleaded guilty to all charges of live baiting. Photo: Queensland Times

Many greyhounds were killed if they could not make an impact on the race track, according to Animal Liberation Queensland. Photo: Joe Armao

A bone-breaking crash, all too common in greyhound racing. Photo: Source: Queensland Greyhound Racing Industry Commission of Inquiry (MacSporran report, 2015)

A still from a ABC Four Corners program exposing live baiting practices in the Greyhound racing industry. Photo: Four Corners

Almost half of the 22 Queensland greyhound trainers banned for life over the live baiting scandal that threatened to bring the industry to its knees have had their penalties dramatically cut.

In the 12 months since revelations of the “likely widespread” use of the outlawed practice, nine trainers, including four who were found to have engaged in the outlawed practice, had their penalties dropped on appeal to periods of between five and 10 years.

Racing Queensland chief executive officer Ian Hall said the downgrades were the decisions of an independent appeals board but Animal Liberation Queensland labelled them “unacceptable”.

Mr Hall refused to rule out the possibility live baiting was still going on in the industry.

The Queensland government and the greyhound industry were shocked into action after a Four Corners expose on February 16, 2015, showed graphic footage, shot by Animal Liberation Queensland, of live possums and piglets being used to “blood” dogs at a property in Churchable.

The revelations, highlighted by confronting squeals of pain from the animals, sparked calls for the industry to be shut down and saw the launch of a police unit and a formal inquiry.

Criminal charges

As of Monday, the QPS/RSPCA Greyhound Racing Inquiry Task Force set up to eradicate the practice had laid 141 charges against 37 people, including some of the sport’s most respected figures.

Decorated trainers Ron Ball and Reg Kay were dumped from the sport’s hall of fame as they were handed life bans.

Another respected trainer, Tom Noble, pled guilty in the Ipswich Magistrates Court on Wednesday to 15 counts of serious animal cruelty but would likely have to wait months for sentencing.

After court, the man whose Churchable greyhound track featured heavily in the Four Corners investigation told News Corp live baiting with piglets had been widespread for years.

Young mum Samantha Dorothy Roberts, 25, was the only trainer to have her criminal process completed, police said.

She was handed a six-month suspended sentence in November for her actions at Noble’s property, where she was filmed taking a baby possum from its mum to be used in live baiting.

Implementation of recommendations

A commission of inquiry ordered in response to the scandal found live baiting was likely to be widespread and made 15 recommendations, including establishing an independent authority to oversee racing integrity.

It recommended cutting funding to a program to incentivise breeding in an industry that saw two thirds of greyhounds retired in Queensland in 2014 put to death, thousands of dogs in all.

Micro-chipping of puppies, extra funds for adoption programs and a birth-to-death register were similarly aimed at cutting down on what the industry referred to as “wastage”.

On Friday, Mr Hall said “many more” dogs had been rehomed in the past six months than the 12 months previously but couldn’t give a precise figure. An adoption day is scheduled for February 20.

Only 90 dogs were adopted in 2014.

He said Queensland had “led the way” in its response to the scandal, pointing to an increase in kennel inspections (from just 31 in 2014 to more than 700 in 2015), the employment of more investigative stewards and rule changes to improve access to property and surveillance.

“We’ve taken all the steps that we possibly can to eradicate (live baiting) from the industry,” he said.

“We’ve said that it’s unacceptable and we’ve worked closely with the industry and certainly key industry participants all acknowledge that it’s unacceptable.

“So we’re doing as much as we can to ensure that behaviour isn’t occurring.”

Life bans reduced

Trainers whose bans were reduced on appeal to the independent Queensland Racing Disciplinary Board included Julie Edmondson, whose life ban was cut to five years after promising to testify against other trainers, and Michael Chapman, who argued a life ban would impact on his family and social life because he was so heavily involved in the industry.

Trainers Craig Wright, John Pollock, Ray Gatti, Michael Campbell and Tracey Kunde had their bans cut to 10 years despite the board upholding findings they had taken part in live baiting.

“In the opinion of this Disciplinary Board, such a period of life is not likely to have any more of an effect by way of a deterrent nature on a participant than would a period of 10 years as suggested in the relevant legislation,” the board noted in handing down its decision on Mr Wright.

Deborah Arnold, a trainer who admitted to live baiting on one occasion, is still facing seven counts of serious animal cruelty in the criminal courts, but had a win against RQ in November when she convinced the Supreme Court to order the organisation to return her confiscated dogs.

Court documents showed Ms Arnold told RQ investigators she was scared other trainers would “literally kill” her if she told anybody about live baiting because “everybody does it”.

Committee to debate new laws

The Agriculture and Environment Committee will this week hear submissions on a bill to introduce Queensland Racing Integrity Commission and broaden powers to investigate animal welfare concerns in the racing industry.

Animal Liberation Queensland president Chay Neal said overbreeding was his organisation’s biggest concern and he would continue to push to have the industry shut down.

“I don’t see that there’s anything really that they can do, that will put a stop to dogs being bred and killed by the industry,” he said.

“There has been a reduction in the number following the Four Corners report a year ago but any number of dogs is unacceptable in our opinion.”

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