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Equine vet reprimanded for kicking horse during examination

8 March 2023

The RCVS Disciplinary Committee has issued a Sheffield-based equine veterinary surgeon a reprimand and formal warning as to his future conduct after he kicked a horse in the abdomen following an examination.

The hearing of Mr Simon Leroy Hutton MRCVS took place at The Chartered Institute of Arbitrators from Monday 20 to Friday 24 February 2023 where the Disciplinary Committee considered the charges against him. The essence of the charge was that, on 12 February 2021, Mr Hutton had attended to Angel the horse at a livery yard in Sheffield. During the course of the examination of Angel, she had kicked Mr Hutton on his leg with her left hind leg, whereupon, in response, Mr Hutton had kicked Angel in her abdomen.

At the beginning of the hearing, through his Counsel Ms Sanderson, Mr Hutton admitted the facts of the allegation against him. The Committee noted the admission to the facts, also noting that there was a dispute between the parties as to the exact manner in which the kick had been administered and whether the conduct amounted to disgraceful conduct in a professional respect.  Both the College and the defence had obtained the opinion of experts, who were not in agreement as to whether the conduct amounted to serious professional misconduct.

The Committee heard evidence from Angel’s owner, Ms A, who was present when Mr Hutton kicked Angel and from Ms B, Mr Hutton’s life partner, who was also present.

The Committee also heard evidence from Mr Hutton. The Committee noted that in his witness statement, Mr Hutton stated that his kick “was an instinctive reaction to what had happened and an instinctive reprimand for what I felt in the aftermath of the kick from her was malicious behaviour”. Mr Hutton also stated that the reprimand was an appropriate response which a horse would understand, in order to modify its future behaviour. In the hearing, Mr Hutton apologised for the incident with Angel. He said it had happened in the heat of the moment. He wished that he had apologised straight away.

In his expert evidence before the Committee, Mr T Gliddon MRCVS, called by the College, agreed that attitudes to physical reprimands had changed over time. In his expert report, he stated that a reprimand administered by a veterinary surgeon that may have been considered acceptable by a significant body of the veterinary profession some decades ago would no longer be regarded as such now, in his opinion. In re-examination, he stated that, in his opinion, there was not a reasonable body of veterinary opinion which would consider kicking a horse as an acceptable form of negative reinforcement of behaviour.

In his expert evidence to the Committee, Dr H Tremaine FRCVS, called by Mr Hutton, stated that, in the case of the minority of veterinary surgeons who used physical reprimands as a means of modifying behaviour, he was not aware that such reprimands would include the use of a kick.

The Committee concluded from the evidence that, following the kick from Angel, Mr Hutton moved away from the horse, so that he was no longer in immediate danger and that his kick in response had come after a gap in time, albeit brief.

Ms Greaney, Counsel for the College, provided written submissions on serious professional misconduct, submitting that principles 1.1 (Veterinary surgeons must make animal health and welfare their first consideration when attending to animals) and 6.5 (Veterinary surgeons must not engage in any activity or behaviour that would be likely to bring the profession into disrepute or under­mine public confidence in the profession) of the Code of Professional Conduct had been breached. It was submitted that, on the basis that there had been a deliberate decision by Mr Hutton to kick Angel in the abdomen, he had time to consider his actions. The College submitted that deliberately kicking Angel, either as punishment or by way of teaching or training a horse, fell far below the standard expected of veterinary surgeons.

The Committee found Mr Hutton’s state of mind when kicking Angel was not an issue and that Mr Hutton had intentionally kicked the horse. In reaching its decision in relation to whether Mr Hutton’s conduct amounted to serious professional misconduct the Committee took into account that:

a. it had found there was a gap in time between Angel’s kick and Mr Hutton’s kick

b. it had found Mr Hutton had moved away from Angel before the kick

c. Mr Hutton had accepted that he was no longer in the ‘danger area’ before he kicked Angel

d. Mr Hutton stated that he had stepped forward towards Angel in order to deliver the kick to Angel

Mrs Judith Way, chairing the Committee and speaking on its behalf, said “The Committee determined that taking all circumstances and its findings into account, this conduct was a single, but serious failure on the part of Mr Hutton and found the facts proved amounted to disgraceful conduct in a professional respect.

“On deciding what, if any, sanction ought to be imposed, the Committee considered the aggravating and mitigating factors of the case, based on findings at the earlier stages of the hearing. The Committee found that there had been a risk of physical and/or mental injury to Angel from Mr Hutton’s conduct but accepted that there were a number of mitigating factors.

“It had been found that the incident had occurred over a very brief period and that Mr Hutton had not taken proper time to consider his response to Angel’s unexpected kick. This was found to be a single isolated incident and the character evidence indicated that otherwise, Mr Hutton was a competent and well-regarded veterinary surgeon. Mr Hutton admitted the kick early on in the proceedings and had issued an early apology, albeit seeking initially to raise some justification for his actions.

“The Committee was persuaded, in light of Mr Hutton’s admissions, heartfelt apologies, developing insight and the testimonial evidence, that he is very unlikely to repeat his past misconduct., However,  despite the low risk of repetition, the Committee considered that the nature of the kick, delivered without the consent of the owner, could undermine public confidence in the profession. Thus, the Committee considered that it was proportionate to issue a reprimand together with a warning as to Mr Hutton’s future conduct. It has determined that this would be proportionate and sufficient to provide adequate protection for animals and maintain public confidence in the profession.”

The full details of the hearing and the Committee’s decision can be found on our Disciplinary Hearings page.

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