April 8, 2008

Some of the rescued horses in the care of The Horse Trust.

Welfare groups that helped in the rescue of 111 horses from a Buckinghamshire farm are gearing up to fight a court decision ruling that 29 of the horses should be returned and the remaining 82 sold at auction.

At a hearing at Oxford Magistrates Court last Friday, Deputy District Judge Sandeep Kainth partially accepted the application made by James John Gray, Julie Gray, Cordelia Gray and Jodie Gray, of Spindle Farm, Buckinghamshire, to have 29 of the 111 equines returned.

The court heard that these animals were considered family pets by the Grays.

The court ordered the remaining 82 horses be sold at auction.

Britain's National Equine Welfare Council, on behalf of its 60 member organisations, said it would be fully supporting the RSPCA which is pursuing legal avenues to secure the future welfare of the animals involved.

Another pre-trial hearing for the criminal case being brought against the Grays will take place on Monday 28th April at Oxford Magistrates Court.

Horse owners across the United Kingdom have expressed their anger over the decision and moves to have it overturned at proceeding on several fronts, from a petition to letter-writing campaigns.

The Horse Trust, which has been caring for 14 of the most emaciated animals taken from he property, says its staff are devastated by the decision.

Director and resident veterinary surgeon Paul Jepson said the animals were "on the brink of death from starvation" on arrival. He had hoped to be able to see them return to complete health before being either rehomed or given sanctuary to the end of their days.

"You can imagine the emotions of our staff are running high," Jepson continued.

"It is incomprehensible that the Court is sending these animals to market.

"We have pledged to give them a secure future and waive the cost of their care and treatment if ownership is transferred fully to The Horse Trust.

"One of them is an elderly, blind mare. Is the court really ordering her into the sale ring? Is it really sending the supposedly 'pet' donkeys back to the hell-hole where they were starved to the point that they were so weak that it took three weeks of special care before they were strong enough to stand without assistance?

"It seems a travesty of common sense and undermines our faith in the system and in the much-heralded new Animal Welfare Act.

"We will be working closely with the RSPCA to get this decision reversed before it is too late."

Rescuers had found 35 animals dead at the Buckinghamshire property at the centre of the rescue operation - one of the largest horses rescues ever to take place in the UK.

The RSPCA, the International League for the Protection of Horses (ILPH) and the British Horse Society have expressed their outrage at the decision.

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, Judge 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.