Boswell Circus sues for R1m over film

Durban – Circus owner Brian Boswell filed a R1m defamation lawsuit against Durban based documentary producer and animal rights activist Michael Almendro for an 11-minute documentary titled Tigers in Tutus.

The claim was lodged in the Pietermaritzburg High Court in December 2012 and was only recently publicised after the furore created by a 14 April episode of M-Net's investigative programme Carte Blanche, which featured undercover footage showing elephants, allegedly in the custody of Brian Boswell Circus, being severely beaten by trainers.

Tigers in Tutus, which can be viewed on YouTube, has had nearly 6 000 views to date since its release in August 2012. In his claim, Boswell states that the documentary suggests that the Brian Boswell Circus is cruel to its animals and is therefore defamatory.

'An abuse of the process of the court'

According to Almendro, Boswell was invited to comment on the issue prior to putting the documentary on YouTube for the purpose of inserting his side of the story into the documentary, but did not respond.

Almendro said he was issued with a lawyer's letter to apologise and remove the video in September 2012 - but refused to do so.

Georgina Boswell, who runs the Brian Boswell Circus, responded to the allegations on Jacaranda FM on Tuesday stating that they are regularly inspected by the NSPCA and claims that they have not had a single verbal or written complaint regarding animal abuse. She said the footage featured on Carte Blanche was an "isolated incident".

Boswell also said that their small family business was being unfairly targeted by the campaign to ban animals from circuses across South Africa.

Almendro, speaking to Channel24, said that there are many causes in South Africa that need attention and that the issue of animal cruelty practised at circuses was his cause.

Responding to Boswell's claim that the circus gave South Africans the opportunity to see wild animals up close, Almendro said: "You see these animals behaving unnaturally, being ridiculed and laughed at. It's just not right."

Court papers show that Almendro will argue the documentary constituted commentary and opinion in relation to the inherently cruel conduct of keeping wild animals in captivity for circus performances and that it was published in the public interest.

According to Almendro's attorney, Diaan Ellis, the claim for R1m is out of keeping with any reasonable claims for compensation. 

"Brian Boswell and Brian Boswell Circus (Pty) Ltd are clearly not seeking reasonable redress from any wrong done to them, but have artificially inflated the claim in an attempt to silence my client and to stifle public debate by attempting to destroy my client financially in public. Boswell's actions consequently constitute an abuse of the process of the court," said Ellis.

'Isolated incident'

Boswell have sought to assure the public that action has been taken action against the employees concerned.

Since the broadcast of the Carte Blanche episode, protests have been staged outside the Boswell Circus. The Circus is currently on show in Kempton Park until 5 May.

It has been reported that two major venues that provided their facilities to Brian Boswell Circus have now distanced themselves from the Circus and have taken the decision to no longer make their facilities available.

A Facebook page called Boycott Brian Boswell's Animal Circus has also been established.

The case is ongoing.

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