Goldfish were given away as prizes at Stevenage Charter Fair last week, despite the borough council condemning the practice and asking the event organisers not to do it.

After last year's annual charter fair, Stevenage Borough Council (SBC) said it "condemns the practice of giving live animals as prizes or rewards" and decided to "prohibit any hirer from giving live animals of any kind as prizes or gifts on any land owned or managed by SBC".

A spokesperson for the council said: "A letter was drafted earlier this year to the Showmen’s Guild (Norwich and Eastern Region), which organises the fair, outlining the council’s approach on giving live animals as prizes and requesting the organisation’s cooperation in ceasing the practice."

However, the charter fair is not an event under the management of the borough council. As it is held on the highway, Hertfordshire County Council (HCC) assumes responsibility.

The borough council said it had "encouraged" HCC's Trading Standards to visit the fair to ensure compliance with the requirements of the Animal Welfare Act.

A HCC spokesperson said: “A trading standards officer visited three stalls at the fair that had goldfish, and all appeared to be complying with the Animal Welfare Act 2006 at the time of our visit.”

The borough council has also written to the Government, asking for a review of the Animal Welfare Act, which it said is "outdated".

The RSPCA is campaigning to make the case to both the UK Government and Welsh Government that pets being given away as prizes should be banned outright, and that national legislation in both countries is ultimately a requirement.

Lee Gingell, a spokesperson for the RSPCA, said: "Animal ownership is a big responsibility and, while goldfish can make great companions, they shouldn't be acquired via a spur-of-the-moment game.

“Goldfish are easily stressed and very often fish that are won as prizes suffer miserably from shock, oxygen, starvation or die from changes in water temperature, and many may die before their new owners can get them home.

“They're misunderstood pets, as they can make great companions, but can actually be challenging to look after, and new owners must do their research before they acquire the fish, not afterwards.

"When bringing a fish home for the first time, it’s important to set the tank up at least two weeks in advance to make sure it’s all running smoothly, and this just isn’t possible for someone who’s won a fish without being prepared for it.”

A spokesperson for The Showmen's Guild said: "The Showmen's Guild has been working with the RSPCA on the care of goldfish since the 1950s.

"There are strict rules for their care which are updated and reviewed annually - with sanctions for Showmen's Guild members for any infringement.

"The Showman's Guild member must not present a fish to anyone who appears to be under 16 years old or intoxicated / under the influence of other substances.

"If the winner is going to continue to other games/rides on the fair, they are advised to collect the fish when they are about to leave. This way they can reconsider if they are really prepared to look after it and can change their mind before leaving if necessary."