Redbourn animal cruelty case back in court - but defendants ‘too depressed’ to attend
PUBLISHED: 13:06 30 November 2016 | UPDATED: 13:06 30 November 2016
A vet has claimed there was no evidence of animal cruelty at a farm where eight horses and a goat had to be put down and 50 dogs rescued.
Inspectors from the RSPCA, which brought forward a private prosecution against some residents of White House Farm in Redbourn, found horses and goats with overgrown hooves living in stinking waterlogged and muddy conditions, St Albans Magistrates’ heard on Tuesday (29).
Some of the dogs found also had fur soaked with urine and covered with sores all over their bodies, it was said.
All animals allegedly had a lack of clean water, food, and dry bedding when they were found by inspectors in October 2014.
Video footage showed dogs living in kennels with one barn housing a cat and 27 dogs of various breeds, including Labradors, terriers and spaniels in crammed cat cages.
Stephen Parkin was one of five defendants facing a string of animal cruelty charges.
But the charity was accused of having blood on its hands over the prosecution when the 56-year-old was found to have taken his own life at the farm on July 25 this year, half-way through the ten-day trial where he faced 13 counts.
Mr Parkin’s suicide note blamed “the pressure of the RSPCA case” and his family slammed the legal action as “aggressive.”
The dead man’s brothers Patrick and Edward Smith, Edward’s wife Julie Smith and family friend Michael Morley, who all live on the farm, initially appeared in court on July 18.
The trial was halted on July 26 after Mr Parkin’s body was discovered the previous evening and District Judge Carolyn Mellanby dismissed some of the charges. But she said there was still a case to answer for the remaining 42 counts.
Some of the charges dismissed include a charge against Patrick Smith, Edward Smith, and Julie Smith relating to the conditions some show horses were kept.
All five had pleaded not guilty to the charges, although Michael Morley had changed his not guilty plea to guilty on one of the charges relating to the welfare of the dogs.
Morley now faces ten charges, while Edward and Julie Smith both face 22 charges, and Patrick Smith faces ten.
All four defendants were too sick to attend court after suffering depression following the death of Mr Parkin, but the case went ahead in their absence.
David Matthew, prosecuting for the RSPCA, said: “In one barn there is evidence of filthy conditions with knee-deep mud, faeces around the barn, no dry lining on the ground. One of the horses in barn six was lame and had overgrown feet.”
The court heard that an inspector observed a stallion with a swollen back leg and that the farm ‘absolutely stinks’.
He added: “Some of the dogs had sores all over their bodies and were lying in urine with heavily soiled coats with alopecia [hair loss]; one had bloodied diarrhoea.
“One had an infected ear, another had a tumour on its tail, one had a cataract on its left eye and in-growing eyelashes.”
Dr Colin Vogel, a veterinary expert called by the defendants to show the animals were properly cared for at the farm, said there was no evidence the animals were suffering in their conditions.
He said: “There were a large number of dogs and horses on the premises, but no evidence has been included that the animals were suffering.
“I accept the environment was incredibly poor. The horse is most likely in pain but nobody investigated to find out.
“There was no evidence that the horse was in pain. Just because there is an abnormality doesn’t mean there is suffering.”
The court heard Edward Smith had been prescribed antidepressants and that neither he nor the other three defendants were fit to come to court, according to letters from Dr Rosemary Ramsey.
Sara-Lise Howe, representing Edward, accused the judge of preventing the defendants from having a fair trial and even asked her to recuse herself for calling Dr Vogel without the defendants in court.
She said: “I’m asking the court to comply with its duty to allow Mr Smith to have a fair trial to allow him to hear the evidence against him.
“He should be able to hear his own expert evidence as he is a man who knows about horses and these types of horses in particular. He has the right to be able to instruct us on this evidence.
“It’s unlawful and it is baffling as to why the court is riding roughshod over their right to have a fair trial - as is this court’s failure to consider the interests of justice.”
District Judge Carolyn Mellanby refused to delay the trial and ordered Dr Ramsey to come to court on December 12 to give evidence on the defendant’s medical conditions.
She added: “This will have an impact on Mr Smith and this family for the rest of his life. I’m sorry I can’t protect him from it.
“It has been suggested it would be an irrational decision to proceed with these proceedings in the defendant’s absence.
“I disagree entirely, I have considered the representations and it is the responsibility of us all to best use the available court resources, which are not infinite.”
The case continues.