An arrest warrant has been issued for the horse trader found guilty of “the worst case [of animal cruelty] experienced by the RSPCA” after he absconded from court yesterday.

An arrest warrant has been issued for the horse trader found guilty of “the worst case [of animal cruelty] experienced by the RSPCA” after he absconded from court yesterday.

James Gray and his family were prosecuted after RSPCA inspectors discovered more than 100 horses, ponies and donkeys and the bodies of a further 32 equines at Spindle Farm near Amersham in January 2008.

The surviving animals were underweight and suffering from numerous health problems, including strangles, salmonella infections, anaemia, parasite infections, impaired liver function, and internal organ damage.

The family had been at Aylesbury Crown Court as both he and his family were hearing their appeal against sentence. After breaking to consider the sentences, the court reconvened after lunch, which was when staff realised Gray was missing, leaving his family to hear their own verdicts. He was sentenced in his absence to a six-month term (26 weeks) in prison for cruelty to more than 100 horses, ponies and donkeys.

James Gray Junior (17) has to complete a 18-month supervision order and is banned from keeping equines for 10 years. Gray’s wife Julie (42) and daughters Jodie (27) and Cordelia Gray (21) were also unsuccessful in their appeals. They will each have to complete 150 hours of community service and are banned from keeping equines for 10 years. A further decision on costs is to be heard at a later date.

Recorder of Aylesbury, His Honour Christopher Tyrer said during the hearing: “The court has listened to a horrendous case of animal cruelty. It is the worst case experienced by the RSPCA on a scale which beggars belief. The RSPCA faced a calamity of huge proportions – they were neglected, starved, emaciated and living in squalor and the horses were hungry, thirsty dejected and miserable. The business of which you were all party to was concerned only with profit. Animal welfare did not figure at all and you have shown no remorse.”

RSPCA inspector Kirsty Hampton, who was commended by the judge in investigating the case, said: “I’m pleased that the severity of the cruelty suffered by so many horses, ponies and donkeys has been reflected in the sentences the Gray family received.

“This investigation has been one of our biggest ever and has so far cost the RSPCA more than £1million, including veterinary treatment and care of the rescued horses. It is thanks to the RSPCA’s hard work and expertise that this case has successfully been brought to court. I would like to thank The Horse Trust, Redwings and World Horse Welfare for caring for many of the horses, ponies and donkeys removed from Spindle Farm.”

On May 6, all five defendants appealed against charges of neglect and cruelty under the Animal Welfare Act 2006. Two of the charges were dismissed during the appeal hearing, and James Gray Junior was acquitted of a further two, but the rest were upheld.

Paul Jepson, chief executive of The Horse Trust, which is looking after 11 horses, ponies and donkeys from Spindle Farm at its Home of Rest for Horses, said:  “At last we are safe in the knowledge that the future of the Spindle Farm horses here at The Horse Trust and the other charities is secure. The past 27 months have been fraught with anxiety for the staff knowing that the horses were still effectively owned by and could be returned to the Gray family.”

Susan Lewis, marketing manager for the trust, said: “This has been a long and emotional journey for both the horses, ponies and donkeys and everyone involved here at the charity but at last we can be satisfied that justice has been done.”


Images courtesy of RSPCA
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