One year and two weeks after I last posted about the Amersham horses welfare case we still don’t have a conclusion in one of the largest animal welfare cases ever held in Britain.
Fair enough, the wheels of justice do tend to grind painfully slowly but this case just seems to beggar belief. If it wasn’t for the suffering of animals I would make some underhand quips about fat ladies and pantomimes.
A quick history (ok that’s a lie, it will be a huge post but worth reading if you are not familiar with the twists and turns of this case) ..
In January 2008 a co-ordinated team from Thames Valley Police, the RSPCA, Trading Standards and equine welfare charities all descended on Spindels Farm in Amersham, home of Mr James Gray a ‘horse trader’ (called a meat man where I come from) for 25 years.
They removed 111 horses, ponies and donkeys, plus removed the dead carcasses of 31 other animals.
There are 5 defendants in this case, Mr Gray, his wife, two daughters and a 15 year old boy who cannot be named for legal reasons.
At the court plea hearing on 4th April 2008 Judge Sandeep Kainth made the rather bizarre decision to return 29 ponies and donkeys to the Gray family (as they claimed they were pets) and sell 82 horses at public auction on behalf of Mr James Gray (the principle accused) … which means these animals would be removed from the charities caring for them and sold (probably for meat), with the person accused of cruelty getting the profits from these sales.
As we British tend to do, we got a tad upset by this decision and all us equine lovers started signing petitions and writing to MPs and the judge personally to suggest he perhaps have a slight rethink.
By the 11th April the 29 ponies and donkeys had not been returned to Mr Gray so he trotted off to the High Court in London to request an emergency injunction for their return. The High Court simply referred the case back to the District Judge (he of the bizarre decision).
On 14th April 2008 at Oxford Magistrates Court the RSPCA requested Judge Sandeep Kainth state his case for the return of the 29 animals in order for a judicial review.
For the RSPCA, Phillip Havers, QC, said that to enforce the previous order to return the animals would effectively be deciding the outcome of a judicial review before it was concluded.
Judge Kainth clearly had a rethink and suspended his own decision, meaning the animals in question would remain in the care of equine charities.
He also made the Gray family pay the legal fees of the RSPCA … a little strange considering it was his decision that required the RSPCA to return to court but at least the equines were safe for now.
There was then a trooping of the colours back and forth to court for pre-trial reviews, while the actual trial dates were set for 8-19 Dec, breaking for Christmas and then beginning again on 12th Jan 2009.
Meanwhile back at the ranch, a dead horse was found at Mr Grays farm on 11 May and the other court hearing of the delightful Mr Gray (for assaulting a police officer on the day they took the rescued animals from Spindles farm, after he tried to arrest Mr Gray for slashing the tyres on an RSPCA van) was adjourned until 10 June 2008.
It’s almost soap operaesque isn’t it.
8th Dec and the trail gets underway at Bicester Magistrates’ Court. The conditions these horses and donkeys were kept in were described in court and recounted in stories in the major press, here are the first articles by the Daily Mail, BBC and Telegraph.
One vet involved in the rescue said “Perhaps most extraordinarily disgusting and distressing of all was that a number of carcasses of dead horses were discovered in pens with other horses living around them.”
The court released the filmed by the RSPCA. What I find depressing is that some of these horses are still wearing the rugs previous owners lovingly bought for them.
Throughout all of this Spindles farm has continued to operate and keep horses, although it’s name has now been changed to Old Home Farmhouse.
On 16 Feb Mr Gray and his family simply didn’t bother turning up for court so his bail conditions were tightened, perhaps he was busy looking after his horses?!
26th Feb saw the start of the defense case, with Mr Gray explaining how common it is for horses to simply drop dead.
He also explained that he alone was responsible for the business and care of the horses, despite originally stating his wife and daughters were also involved .. but he said that because he was “on strong medication” at the time.
He also explained that one of the horses found by the RSPCA had simply died that night and the dead one in the trailer, with a rope tied round it’s tail, had died in transit.
Oh and the skid trailer used for feeding the horses had just broken and he was just on his way to buy spare parts when the police and RSPCA turned up … gosh!!
Some interesting snippets from the trial can be found here but as my family have been involved in the horse business for many years I found this one particularly stomach churning … Mr Seabrook said: “This was again an example of an equine dying with no warning, was it?” Mr Gray replied: “That’s correct.”
Horses, like any animals, do suddenly die without a known cause. Just visit any equine forum and you will hear tales of horses breaking necks in fields, dying of unknown illness, etc but I have yet to hear of so many just dropping down dead for no reason (while trampling in dead carcasses).
The vet for the defense, Mr Parker, stated that these animals may have died from cyathostomiasis (infestation of worms) but the idea had not come to him until months after the case started s he could not prove his theory.
Mr Parker told the court that evidence already heard from vets and RSPCA inspectors had been “exaggerated” and “overstated”.
District judge Andrew Vickers will deliver his verdict in this case on 8 May at Oxford Magistrates Court.
To add to Mr Grays woes he was also in court for another seperate case on 25 March 2009 on horse transportation charges dating back to 2007.
James Gray was also being tried in High Wycombe Magistrates’ Court on 20 Apr 09 on five trading standards charges, including failing to dispose of dead horses correctly. This was adjourned until 27 May.
If nothing else Mr Gray will be able to write a book about the court houses of Oxfordshire.
To keep up to date with this story bookmark the Voices for Horses website.