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Kurt Zouma has been fined £250,000 by West Ham and his cats have been taken into care by the RSPCA in the furious backlash over his barbaric treatment of a household pet.
As one of West Ham’s key sponsors reviewed their deal with the club, more than 160,000 people signed a petition calling for the Hammers defender to be prosecuted for kicking and slapping his cat.
Essex Police and the RSPCA have joined forces to launch “urgent enquiries” into the shocking video footage of Zouma’s barbaric cruelty, which leaked into the public domain on Tuesday.
Animal rights groups in France, where maltreatment of pets carries a maximum penalty of four years in prison, have demanded Zouma’s immediate removal from the World Cup holders’ squad.
While the RSPCA confirmed that the cats were now in its care, the Hammers have announced 27-year-old France international Zouma – who has apologised – had been fined two weeks’ wages, which will be donated to animal welfare charities.
A club statement read: ” West Ham United can confirm that the club is supporting an RSPCA investigation into the actions of Kurt Zouma in the video circulated online this week.
“Kurt and the club are co-operating fully with the investigation and the player has willingly complied with the steps taken in the initial stage of the process, including delivering his family’s two cats to the RSPCA for assessment.
“Kurt is extremely remorseful and, like everyone at the club, fully understands the depth of feeling surrounding the incident and the need for action to be taken.
“Separate to the RSPCA’s investigation and pending further sanction once the outcome of that process is determined, West Ham United can confirm that Kurt Zouma has been fined the maximum amount possible following his actions in the video that circulated.
“The player has immediately accepted the fine, which will be donated to animal welfare charities.
“West Ham United would like to reiterate our condemnation of Kurt’s actions and make it clear that the matter continues to be handled with the utmost seriousness.
“However, we believe it is now important to allow the RSPCA to conduct their investigation in a fair and thorough manner, and will be making no further comment at this stage.”
The RSPCA said Zouma’s cats had been taken for a check-up at a vets and would remain in their care while the investigation into his X-rated video continues.
Hammers manager David Moyes, who insists he is an “animal-lover,” could offer only lame justification for picking Zouma – against overwhelming public opinion – in Tuesday night’s laboured 1-0 win against Watford.
“Shocked and appalled” BBC Match of the Day host Gary Lineker slammed West Ham’s “tone deaf” decision to play Zouma, who was subjected to boos and merciless catcalls throughout the match.
And Cats Protection’s Director of Veterinary Services, Maggie Roberts, said: “We’re saddened the club did not take the opportunity to send a clear message that cruelty to animals will not be tolerated.
“The decision by Kurt Zouma’s club to continue as though nothing has happened sends an appalling message to fans and the wider public. It seems that on this occasion, a decision has been taken to put football before the wellbeing of a sentient being.
“Footballers are in the privileged position of being role models to a huge number of people across the world. This makes the behaviour in the video – and the subsequent decision by the club – all the more distressing.
“This is not a minor offence. Cruelty to animals is a serious criminal offence because it is no longer considered acceptable in today’s society. There is also research which shows people who practice cruelty towards animals are more likely to progress to becoming more aggressive towards humans.
“Anyone who loves and supports football – whether its fans or sponsors – will expect the very highest standards of players and management. It is for sponsors to decide if they can tolerate the actions seen on the video and the decision taken by the club last night.”
If Moyes’ decision was based purely on the pursuit of three points, the Hammers may be about to discover the cost of standing by £29.8 million French international Zouma is more far-reaching.
Experience Kissimmee, West Ham’s official destination partner, say they “will be evaluating our relationship and sponsorship with the club” after Zouma’s controversial selection.
A post on the Experience Kissimmee Twitter account read: “It was disheartening to learn that the player Kurt Zouma was part of the starting line in West Ham United’s game. As we wait for further information from WHU, we will be evaluating our relationship and sponsorship with the club.”
Although West Ham said they “unreservedly condemn” Zouma, who will be disciplined by the club, the player’s apology has not been enough to stem the tide of wholesale revulsion at the video and its appalling soundtrack of laughter.
A petition on Change.org, started by Anti Animal Abuse, reads: “In the UK we have laws against the abuse of animals, laws which should be applicable to everyone rich or poor, famous or not!
“We ask that the Metropolitan Police and RSPCA carry out an urgent investigation and prosecute the perpetrators of this heinous act. Further we ask that the RSPCA remove all animals from Zouma’s ‘care’ immediately!
“Failure to take action in this case will send the message that animal abuse for entertainment is justified, that for the rich and famous breaking the law is no problem! Neither are acceptable!”
Zouma played well against Watford, despite the barracking – predominantly from away supporters – and Moyes said: “The club have taken all the action they can do at the moment behind the scenes. My job is to pick the best team and Kurt was part of that.”
But London Mayor Sadiq Khan was not impressed, telling Sky News: “It’s despicable. I think a number of things need to happen urgently. I think the RSPCA and the police need to work together to prosecute this player.
“I’m disappointed in David Moyes and West Ham. I know how important three points are, but I think they should have shown leadership and dropped him last night.”
Conservationist Chris Packham has branded Moyes’ decision to select Zouma as an “absolute disgrace.”
Packham told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I think it was a disgraceful decision. I think if the footballer had released on social media a film of him taking drugs or beating his wife or his girlfriend or his children, there was no way he would have been on the pitch.
“And this is not just about football. These footballers now are role models to millions of people, so in a way they set public standards, and what David Moyes showed last night is that he had no regard for people’s opinion of public standards when it came to animal welfare.
“Let’s be very clear, this is a crime that has been committed and it will be investigated. So to put him on the pitch last night did sport no favours, it did football no favours, and it did us as a nation of animal lovers no favours. It was an absolute disgrace.”
The RSPCA condemned the “very upsetting” video after it surfaced online and will be leading the investigation and co-operating with Essex Police.
My ‘Brownie’ (1 of 2) says Cat Lives Matter: