Redbourn family face massive fines after being found guilty of a string of animal cruelty charges
- Credit: Archant
A carriage driving family has been fined thousands of pounds after being found guilty of the ‘appalling neglect’ of horses, goats and dogs, which were kept in a “rubbish strewn holding teeming with rats”.
The convictions of two men and a woman, who appeared at St Albans Magistrates’ Court on Thursday, January 26, came after the tragic death of another defendant, Stephen Parkin, who took his own life during the trial last year.
Edward Smith, 63, and his wife, Julie Smith, 60, both of White House Farm, Hemel Hempstead Road in Redbourn, were both found guilty of 12 offences under the Animal Welfare Act.
These included causing unnecessary suffering to three horses and eight goats, and failing to provide a suitable environment for 14 horses.
They were each made to pay £10,000 costs, plus an £80 victim surcharge, and given a custodial sentence of 10 weeks, suspended for two years. The couple were also disqualified from owning goats and horses for three years.
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Michael Morley, 38, who lives at the same property, was found guilty of nine offences, causing suffering to 10 dogs, and for failing to provide veterinary care for various conditions.
He had previously pleaded guilty, on July 20 last year, to one offence of failing to meet the welfare needs of 42 dogs, by failing to provide a suitable environment for them.
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Morley was given a community order of 150 hours’ unpaid work, to be carried out over the next 12 months; disqualified from keeping or owning any animals for two years, and made to pay costs of £2,000, plus a £60 victim surcharge.
Patrick Smith, 59, also of White House Farm, was found not guilty of 10 offences.
A fifth defendant, Stephen Parkin, died on the morning of July 26 last year.
District judge Carolyn Mellanby said that while there had initially been 32 charges, on the day of Mr Parkin’s death, the court dismissed some charges, while some others were discontinued.
The case was then adjourned, to allow the defence to be heard late last year.
Although the defence had submitted that there was no case to answer for any of the defendants, and requested the trial to be handed over from the RSPCA, the judge pointed out that the Crown Prosecution Service had “refused to take on a private prosecution”.
Judge Mellanby described the 17-acre White House Farm in Redbourn as a smallholding occupied by all five defendants.
On October 14, 2014, RSPCA inspectors visited the farm to follow up on some horses, in relation to the condition of their hooves.
But, as a result of what they found, three vets, the police, the fire brigade - which provided emergency lighting - and other RSPCA personnel were called to the scene. By the time the RSPCA had left, well after 9pm, three horses had been removed, three horses and one goat euthanased, and at least 14 goats had their feet clipped. Twenty dogs were removed from the site, four of which were subsequently euthanased.
The principal farm house had been bought by Julie Smith, where she lived with her husband, Edward Smith.
The judgement described the RSPCA inspectors as “credible and thoroughly professional. Much of the cross examination of these two witnesses revolved around the suggestion that [the officers] attended the farm that day with a ‘mindset’ of gathering evident to support a prosecution and ensure Edward Smith and his family never showed horses again.
“There was a suggestion of a long held ‘hostility’ towards the Smiths. I find no evidence whatsoever that this was the case. In fact, quite the contrary.”
The judge added that “photographic evidence showed a lame horse with grossly overgrown hooves”.
In barns at the property, six horses were found in “appalling conditions. [RSPCA] video footage speaks for itself. For anyone to suggest that these were anything other than appalling conditions in which to keep a horse would be deluding themselves, and against all common sense.”
Video footage showed “the extent of a rubbish strewn and chaotic smallholding teeming with rats.
“What was initially a routine visit commencing at about 11am that morning turned out to be a very large and time-consuming investigation revealing many instances of animal welfare and poor animal husbandry practices of an obviously longstanding almost overwhelming nature.”
There were “40 or so dogs found in an unlit, wet and cold outbuilding”.
Judge Mellanby added: “The photographs are truly shocking together with the deep mud and utterly squalid conditions beggars belief. For anyone to suggest these horses were not suffering is absurd.”
One horse was “so lame he was barely able to walk and was euthanased on site”.
In one barn, “horses must have suffered by being confined in such dreadful conditions with nowhere dry to lie down and scarcely able to move in the mud let alone the hazards of broken corrugated iron planks of wood, faeces, not to mention the rats which populated the entire site. Their needs were clearly not being met.”
There were goats with “grossly deformed and distorted long hooves”, but upon clipping, they began resuming normal walking.
The judge said: “The goats were hobbling and staggering around, I have no doubt that they needed to have their feet clipped to relieve their obvious suffering.”
In a prepared statement, Edward Smith said he was responsible for show horses in one barn and horses in the field, but the remaining ones belonged to Stephen Parkin. He also said his wife “gave the goats to Stephen”.
Julie Smith said: “I am not 100 per cent sure who owns which horses.”
But the judge said the couple had control of the horse passports and that Julie Smith must have known exactly who owned which horse and, “Julie, Edward and Patrick have provided no evidence of how and when they were transferred to Stephen Parkin.”
Judge Mellanby said she did “not believe their written statements”. Furthermore, neither Edward nor Julie Smith “gave evidence at the trial”.
Michael Morley “was the only defendant to give evidence at the adjourned hearing. He unequivocally accepted full responsibility for each of the dogs, the subjects of the charges. He was clearly trying to care for ageing and sick dogs without any support from his employers Edward and Julie Smith. He did not go to them for help or money to take them to a vet.
“He was courageous in the way he gave his evidence and faced full responsibility for lack of care of the dogs … each dog was suffering without doubt.”