Horses saved from starvation can be re-homed at last

Stephanie BrooksThe future of dozens of rescued horses being looked after by two Norfolk charities has been secured after their owner had his convictions and sentence for animal cruelty offences upheld.Stephanie Brooks

The future of dozens of rescued horses being looked after by two Norfolk charities has been secured after their owner had his convictions and sentence for animal cruelty offences upheld.

Bosses from Redwings Horse Sanctuary, near Tasburgh, and World Horse Welfare, in Snetterton, said they looked forward to giving the 72 horses, ponies and donkeys in their care good homes following the conclusion of a �1.4m case the RSPCA said was the worst it had ever dealt with.

Horse trader James Gray, 46, and his family were convicted of neglecting more than 100 animals at Spindle Farm, near Amersham, Buckinghamshire, where 32 horses died.

RSPCA inspectors who searched the farm in January 2008 found many without food or dry bedding, crammed into pens and ankle-deep in faeces. Some had simply been left to die where they fell.

Carcasses were also discovered in surrounding fields, some were burned on bonfires and bones were piled against on outbuilding.

Gray attended Aylesbury Crown Court yesterday to appeal against his 24-week prison sentence, having lost an appeal against his convictions last week. But he absconded from court while the judge retired to deliberate and a warrant was issued for his arrest. His sentence was increased to 26 weeks in his absence.

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Judge Christopher Tyrer said: 'What the court has been listening to is an horrendous case of animal cruelty…In our judgement, this was cruelty on a scale that beggars belief.'

The rescued animals can now be rehomed as an order was passed preventing them being returned to the Gray family.

Redwings, which took on 61 of the animals, said it will evaluate each of its horses individually to see whether they are suitable for new owners, but would continue to care for the donkeys due to their specialist needs.

Chief executive Lynn Cutress said: 'It was a heartbreaking and deeply distressing rescue and it is such a relief that it is finally over and the 61 horses we have here are safe at last.

'We would like to thank the people of Norfolk and East Anglia who generously sent us donations and letters of support at the time of the rescue and who have followed this case ever since.'

It is hoped all the 11 horses at World Horse Welfare will also be rehomed. Chief executive Roly Owers said the cost had been 'enormous' and added: 'We look forward to being able to find them loving new homes where they can look forward to a happy life far removed from the one they experienced at the hands of the Gray family.'