Horse ill-treatment convictions stand

stock-eyeConvictions for horse ill-treatment will stand against two Canterbury brothers who tried to withdraw the guilty pleas they entered during a Christchurch District Court trial last year.

John Blackwood Williamson, 47, and Douglas John Williamson, now face sentencing by Judge Jane Farish on July 16. The judge had ordered pre-sentence reports to assess their suitability for home detention.

She had warned the pair that her starting point for sentencing would be a jail term.

They had pleaded guilty after the end of the Crown case, when it became clear that was the last point when they had a chance of avoiding jail time by admitting the charges.

The brothers admitted one charge of ill-treatment of a horse, wilful ill-treatment of six horses, and five charges of failing to meet the behavioural and physical needs of horses.

Their sentencing next month will take place almost a year after the end of the trial because the brothers later said they wanted to withdraw their guilty pleas in the SPCA prosecution, the Christchurch Court News website reported.

For Douglas Williamson, the application was made because of what he saw as an incorrect ruling during the trial, and what he considered was incorrect advice from his defence counsel that “no tenable defence” could be advanced.

The bid to withdraw the guilty pleas led to a hearing before another judge, Judge David Saunders, who has now released his reserved decision.

Judge Saunders ruled that the Williamsons had not been able to demonstrate that a miscarriage of justice had occurred when they admitted the charges. They still had the chance to put forward mitigating factors at sentencing.

He said counsel for Douglas Williamson was well aware that the evidence of a Crown witness had done significant damage to any prospective defence. The defendant said he had believed that he could still contest the facts at sentencing, and had made further inquiries about whether iron toxicosis could have been responsible for the condition of the horses.

The judge said he could place no weight on that – no affidavit setting out the opinion of that expert witness had been filed.

He also said that evidence from a veterinarian retained by the Williamsons was unlikely to be of any assistance to the defence. That veterinarian had prepared a report which referred to the worm infestations in the horses, and he had agreed with other veterinary opinions about the need to euthanize the horses.

The judge said he had no hesitation in finding that John Williamson, by his guilty pleas, accepted that he would be held accountable for the state of the animals under his control.

The SPCA found the horses on an overstocked property on Quaifes Road, Halswell, near Christchurch.

The Williamsons were given notices about supplementary feed, lice and worm treatment, reducing the number of horses, supplying more water troughs, and trimming their hooves. In return visits, the SPCA inspectors and veterinarians found little had been done. One horse, a former racehorse, was found confined in a shed without food or water.

On a visit on March 29, 2010, one horse could not stand and was euthanized. Five more horses in extremely poor condition were put down the next day. The other horses were removed from the property, treated, and fostered out.

More horses were found on another property, and those horses were also removed and fostered.

At the trial, some jury members were visibly distressed by a video they were shown of the state of some of the horses, and others were crying.

The Williamson brothers remain on bail.

Coverage courtesy of

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