RSPCA inspectors found breaches of animal welfare laws at a crisis-hit charity sanctuary just days before it closed its doors to the public, the Daily Echo can reveal.

Officers issued eight notices to the management at St Francis Animal Welfare in Fair Oak relating to conditions some of the rescued pets were being kept in.

The shelter has been closed to people without pre-arranged appointments since April 25, following the inspectors' visit, which came after complaints from the public.

Some of the animals have been moved to specialist sanctuaries.

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The shelter has also been inspected by animal welfare officers from Eastleigh Council who were investigating allegations that it was offering a boarding service for pets without a licence - an offence that could have led to it being closed down.

St Francis' live-in manager of nearly 30 years, Ann Hillman, is currently suspended on full pay by the charity's ruling committee and is still waiting to learn her fate.

As reported earlier, the charity has been the centre of an internal power struggle. At its annual meeting in March, about 50 apparently paid-up members were refused entry.

Six police officers attended Fair Oak Village Hall after being called in by the committee, who said they feared for the safety of genuine members.

The Charity Commission has since been investigating a deluge of complaints from those kept out of the meeting, at which the committee was re-elected.

It is thought that most of those refused entry were supporters of Mrs Hillman, some of whom had launched a bid to join the committee a month earlier.

The arguments have focused on how the charity is being run, but until now the care of the animals had apparently not been called into question.

The RSPCA carried out an inspection of theMortimers Lane shelter at the invitation of the committee, after it received complaints from the public.

"Two officers went to the shelter and eight Animal Welfare Act forms were issued to the management with pieces of various welfare advice," said an RSPCA spokesman.

"Since the visit we have been working closely with the committee to achieve its aim of reopening to the public as soon as possible, and will continue to offer them support as necessary.

"The advice we've given has been taken seriously and issues have been addressed and people should be confident that they can continue to support the charity."

As well as moving some animals from the shelter, it is understood St Francis has employed new vets and changed all locks.

A spokesman for Eastleigh Council confirmed that its officers had inspected the shelter to see if it was operating a boarding service for dogs and cats without a licence.

"They found no evidence of animal boarding taking place at all,"

he said.

St Francis' chairman David Whitmore said he was unable to comment on the RSPCA or council inspections because of the ongoing internal investigation.

But he said he is hopeful the issues will be resolved soon, and the shelter will fully reopen to the public soon.

Mrs Hillman was suspended on April 25, and was initially due to have her internal disciplinary case held this week, but this has now been postponed while the committee takes expert advice on the situation. It is not yet known how long that process will take.

A second member of staff who was suspended at the same time but over a separate issue, Sarah Eckton, has since resigned from her post.

Read the full story in today's Daily Echo