Pen Farthing arrives in UK with dogs and cats - but shelter staff left behind in Afghanistan

Pen Farthing Credit: PA

A former UK Royal Marine and animal shelter boss who campaigned to leave Afghanistan with almost 200 rescued dogs and cats has arrived in the UK with the animals, but his charity's Aghan staff have been left behind.

A privately-funded chartered plane carrying Paul “Pen” Farthing and his animals landed at Heathrow Airport near London on Sunday.

Veterinarian Iain McGill said the animals appeared healthy and are now in quarantine.

Mr Farthing tweeted that he had "mixed emotions and true deep feeling of sadness for Afghan(s)" as he landed.

Animal welfare campaigner Dominic Dyer said Taliban guards would not let Mr Farthing's Afghan staff through the airport, even though they had papers permitting them to come to Britain.

He said Nowzad would continue to work to get them safely to Britain.

Mr Farthing, who started the Nowzad animal shelter in Afghanistan after serving with British forces in the country 15 years ago, was eligible to be evacuated in Britain’s military planes along with his Afghan staff. But he refused to leave without the animals.

His campaign led to his supporters lobbying the UK government to help with a rescue effort dubbed Operation Ark. He was supported by some celebrities, including comedian Ricky Gervais.

But he was also criticised by others who said his case was draining time and energy from the task of rescuing Afghans in danger under Taliban rule.

Conservative MP Tom Tugendhat, who served with the British Army in Afghanistan, told radio station LBC on Saturday: “What would you say if I sent an ambulance to save my dog rather than to save your mother?

“We’ve just used a lot of troops to bring in 200 dogs. Meanwhile my interpreter’s family is likely to be killed.”

Although Mr Farthing and his supporters say Operation Ark would not take airplane seats from people or drain resources, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said the military had to prioritise people over pets.

Pen Farthing Credit: Nowzad/PA

He said some of Mr Farthing’s supporters had “taken up too much time” of senior commanders and had sent abuse to military staff.

The Sunday Times newspaper said it had obtained a leaked audio recording of Mr Farthing berating Peter Quentin, a special adviser to the defence secretary.

He accused Mr Quentin of “blocking” the evacuation and threatened to “spend the rest of my time … destroying you on social media.”

But animal welfare campaigner Mr Dyer said Mr Farthing was “a national hero” who was facing “a smear campaign” by government officials.

After days of failed attempts by Mr Farthing to return to the UK, the British military said it had given clearance for the chartered flight and troops had “assisted” Farthing and the animals into the airport.

Mr Farthing, his staff and the animals were also near Kabul airport on Thursday when a suicide bomber killed at least 169 Afghans, 13 US soldiers and two Brits.

The UK has said it evacuated more than 15,000 people over two weeks, but say as many as 1,100 Afghans who were entitled to come to the UK have been left behind.

The UK's evacuation mission ended late on Saturday as the last troops left Kabul airport.