April 8, 2008

One of the Amersham horses arriving at the ILPH.

British horse welfare groups are outraged that the horses and donkeys at the centre of the horror rescue operation in Buckinghamshire in January are to be returned to Spindles Farm in Amersham.

The decision made at Oxford Magistrates Court on April 4 to return 29 of the ponies and donkeys to the Gray family, and to have the remainder of the animals sold at public auction, has come as a huge blow to all of those involved with the operation and to everybody who is concerned about horse welfare.

Rescuers found 35 animals dead at the property, and the rescue of more than 100 horses, ponies and donkeys from the premises of Jamie Gray was one of the largest equine welfare operations ever to have take place in the United Kingdom. It saw many different horse welfare organisations working together to seize and subsequently rehabilitate the animals involved.

The RSPCA, the International League for the Protection of Horses (ILPH) and the British Horse Society have expressed their outrage at the decision to return 29 donkeys and Shetland ponies to the family at the centre of the recent rescue operation. The remaining 82 horses taken from Spindles Farm in January this year are to be sold on his behalf at public auction. The ILPH said it is "horrified and devastated at the judge's decision", and would fully support the RSPCA in pursuing all other legal avenues in order to secure the future welfare of the animals involved.

The RSPCA, which contested the Grays' application for all the animals to be returned, argued in court that it instead should oversee the rehoming of the animals in order to safeguard their future welfare. However, Mr Sandeep Kainth said the donkeys and Shetland ponies had to be returned to the Grays "as there is no evidence to show they are in any danger."

However, he was not happy for the remaining horses to be in the care of the Grays, and ordered they be sold at the first auction in May at Henley-in-Arden, Warwickshire.

ILPH Chief Executive Roly Owers said: "This is the worst possible outcome for the horses and for our staff but is by no means the end of this matter."

In addition to the legal efforts to try to reverse last week's decision by the Courts, The judge also set the date for a pre-trial review of the RSPCA's criminal case against James John Gray, Julie Gray, Cordelia Gray and Jodie Gray - along with a juvenile - after they entered 'not guilty' pleas. This will be heard on 28 April 2008 at Oxford Magistrates Court. They face 12 charges related to section 4 and section 9 of the Animal Welfare Act 2006 and cover causing unnecessary suffering to and failing to meet the welfare needs of a total of 125 equines, removed between 4 and 12 January 2008.

BHS Welfare Senior Executive Lee Hackett said: "The BHS is shocked and disappointed by the decision to return a number of horses to the Gray family.

"Whilst we recognise that the trials of those charged in this case have yet to take place, the terrible condition of the animals at the time they were rescued should have been enough to ensure that they remain safely in the care of rescue organisations.

"This will be devastating news to everybody who has been involved in the care and rehabilitation of these animals".

Mr Hackett continues: "The decision to sell the remainder of the horses, ponies and donkeys at public auction is as mystifying as it is disappointing.

"We are appalled that these animals will now be put in a position where their future welfare cannot be guaranteed.

"We fully support the RSPCA's argument that they should be allowed to supervise the re-homing of these horses to approved homes where knowledgeable and responsible people will care for them. This is the absolute least that these animals deserve."

RSPCA Inspector Kirsty Hampton said the organisation had grave concerns about the Gray's ability to care for them. "It is now our intention to pursue all other legal avenues available to us in order to secure the welfare of the animals involved.

"On Friday the court had a flavour of the reasons for our concern. This has also been reflected in the evidence of two vets, and of the public, who continue to call us with serious worries about the welfare of other horses currently in the Grays' care.

"We had hoped that the court would ask us to seek new owners for them who were guaranteed to provide for their future welfare. An open sale to an unknown bidder means that we cannot be sure of the level of future care they will receive. Hopefully they will be bought by people who will properly care for them into old age.

"Given criminal proceedings are active, the RSPCA must remain cautious about commenting on evidence for that case."