A CHARITY event raising money for seriously ill children has been cancelled after a reign of hatred from animal rights campaigners.

The Rockinghorse children’s charity called off the fundraising event at Hove Greyhound Stadium – after greyhound activists waged a vicious social media campaign.

Activists sent a series of aggressive messages to the charity’s staff on social media – including making a vile joke about going to the hospital “to bet" on the children. Several other supporters “liked” the comment.

Rockinghorse chief executive officer Ryan Heal branded their comments “despicable”.

He said he had no choice but to cancel the event – which was being held to raise money to buy a vital cardiac monitor for the Royal Alexandra Children’s Hospital.

He said: “It is with great regret that Rockinghorse has been forced to cancel our forthcoming charity race night at The Coral Brighton & Hove Greyhound Stadium due to an intimidating and threatening social media campaign from a group of greyhound activists.

“When we received messages, including that the activists should go to the baby unit and bet on which baby ‘would and would not make it’ (by way of a comparison to greyhound race betting), we knew we were dealing with dangerous individuals and felt enough was enough.

“My priority will always be the children whose lives we serve to improve. We are so proud of the positive heritage and goodwill that we have built up across Sussex for nearly 50 years and will not allow these individuals to disrupt that.

“As we don’t know how far their abuse will go, we feel it best to cancel the event and have them deal with the fallout of their ‘campaign’ that has resulted in approximately £5,000 not being raised for our cause, which would have purchased a cardiac monitor for the children’s emergency department at the Royal Alex.

“We wanted to let our amazing supporters know what we’ve been through in the hope of their unerring and unwavering support in this matter, for which we will be eternally grateful.”

The charity even consulted Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner Katy Bourne over whether to report the matter to police – but decided against it.

After being contacted by The Argus, animal welfare group Greyt Exploitations apologised for any offence caused and promised to review the way it conducts its campaigns in future.

The most offensive comment about betting on children’s lives has now been removed from the page.

Greyt Exploitations co-ordinator Trudy Baker, who launched the campaign against Rockinghorse, said: “If people have taken offence then yes we are sorry, but at the same time we would hope charities would make more informed choices about how they raise their funds. Rockinghorse is a worthy charity, but our calls were for them to raise awareness in other ways. At no time have we ever threatened or used violence or abuse.

“I am upset that some Rockinghorse supporters may have been upset.”

A spokesman for Coral, which runs the Hove greyhound stadium, said: “I think it is disgusting that a small minority of ill-informed individuals have bullied a very worthwhile cause out of holding a fundraising event.”

'Apologies over offence caused'

GREYT Exploitations was founded in 2008 to raise awareness of “cruel and inhumane treatment of greyhounds”.

It claims 40,000 dogs have been injured as part of commercial dog racing in the past decade and alleges the sport is “dependent on cruel practices for its financial viability”.

Surrey-based Laura Slade was a driving force behind the campaign to end the Rockinghorse event.

In the space of five days she tweeted 33 times and left at least nine posts on Facebook about the event. She shared contact details of Rockinghorse’s chief executive, fundraisers and PR executives, urging colleagues to contact them.

When one supporter, Jill Kirby, posted a vile joke about betting on the lives of sick children, several other supporters – including Ms Slade and an admin for the group – liked the comment. Ms Kirby also emailed the charity her offensive remark.

Greyt Exploitations national co-ordinator Trudy Baker said: “Our intention was not to cause offence. The campaign was to raise awareness so Rockinghorse can decide whether to go ahead with their event. It was my campaign. Laura is one of our supporters.”

Ms Baker claimed she had no idea who Jill Kirby was. She added that a new member of the admin team had ‘liked’ the post and had now been removed from the group.

Jill Kirby told The Argus: “I would like to apologise for any offence my remark caused. The remark was not meant to be offensive but was made in the hope that the charity would rethink the idea about supporting greyhound racing.”

The Argus made repeated attempts to contact Laura Slade for comment, but she did not respond.

Incident reveals the ugly side to social media

WHEN fundraisers at Rockinghorse came up with a plan to hold a charity night of greyhound racing they thought it was the perfect way to raise £5,000 for a cardiac monitor for the Royal Alexandra emergency department.

The vital piece of equipment would help detect life-threatening conditions in children as soon as they entered A&E – helping save young lives.

But they had no idea their good intentions would result in a vicious battle with animal rights activists. Within days of advertising their event things started to turn sour as greyhound campaigners shared their event on Facebook and Twitter.

The group urged their supporters to “email the chief executive and politely ask him to have a heart for the greyhounds and cancel the event.”

They urged supporters to send Rockinghorse staff claims of cruel treatment of greyhounds.

The welfare group claim that on British race tracks in the past decade, 40,000 dogs have been injured, 18,000 too badly to race again and a large proportion put down.

They claimed a two-year-old greyhound called Armchair Piemiss broke a leg at the Hove track on May 6 and was put down.

Within less than a day of the call for action, greyhound welfare supporters had taken a nastier tone – calling Rockinghorse “disgusting” and leaving comments like “shame on all concerned” and “helping sick children by killing dogs, how nice.”

Supporters then started emailing Rockinghorse’s officers and sharing their personal contact details.

As the campaign gathered pace under the veil of anonymity of social media – the attacks became more and more offensive.

As Rockinghorse battled to remove the offending comments from their own Facebook and Twitter pages – one Greyt Exploitations supporter, Jill Kirby, posted: “sent a polite email to ask if they are going to arrange a day at the hospital so we can all go and bet on the children”.

After being contacted by The Argus, Ms Kirby apologised for “any offence my remark caused”.

She also boasted to supporters that she had prevented two other charity events taking place at the Hove stadium, including one for Guide Dogs.

Some animal rights groups – such as the Animal Liberation Front which campaigned against animal testing at Huntingdon Life Sciences in the early 2000s – have waged campaigns that have escalated into serious violence.

ALF supporters were urged to target the families and children of company directors whose firms funded the university.

Escalating social media hate campaigns have become a thorny issue. The Government has warned that Twitter, Facebook and Whatsapp are increasingly being used to wage social media hate campaigns, as bile filled commenters try to hide behind the cloak of anonymity of the internet.

Rockinghorse said they had become so fearful for their staff’s safety and what might happen if they went ahead with the event they had no choice but the cancel.

Chief executive officer Ryan Heal said: “The abuse reached such despicable heights that I had to make this decision in order to protect the staff, our proud brand and the wonderful children and their families we support at the Royal Alex, Trevor Mann Baby Unit and beyond.

“I think the worst thing was the impact on families who have lost children. It is beyond the pale. They were saying to people if you support Rockinghorse you are killing dogs. What shocked us the most was how misplaced their anger seemed to be.

“Why were they targeting us? There can’t be a charity out there that at some point or other hasn’t held a dog racing event.

“If they have an issue with greyhound racing then surely take that up with the racing industry or the stadium but instead they focussed their attentions on the children who should have benefited from this fundraising.

“This really is the ugly side of social media. We really don’t want our supporters to think we have let them down.”

Brighton and Hove Greyhound Stadium owners Coral refused to comment on Greyt Exploitations allegations of animal cruelty, but branded their actions “disgusting.”

A spokesman added: “If the charity feel they cannot continue with the event then we support them in that and feel it is a real shame they have been put in this position and if there is anything we can do to support them in future then we will do all we can.”