Farmer jailed for 'grotesque' horse cruelty

A man was jailed for 24 weeks today for the "grotesque" neglect of more than 100 animals on his farm.

James Gray, 45, and four other members of his family were banned from keeping horses, ponies and donkeys following the neglect, which was described by vets as the "the worst case of animal cruelty" they had ever seen.

The Gray family were sentenced at Aylesbury Magistrates' Court in Buckinghamshire for causing distress to the animals at Spindle Farm in Amersham.

Vets found horses with little bedding and crammed into pens ankle-deep in their own faeces.

Hooves and body parts were discovered scattered across the site, along with a mound made up of bones and skulls.

Gray and his son, James Gray Junior, were convicted at an earlier trial of 11 charges each under the Animal Welfare Act 2006.

Gray Senior, a horse trader, was ordered to pay costs of £400,000 to cover the expenses of the investigation by the RSPCA and the trial which was held Bicester Magistrates' Court.

His wife, Julie Gray, 42, and daughters, Cordelia, 21, and Jodie, 26, were also convicted of two charges under the Act.

Gray Junior, 16, was banned from keeping equines for 10 years and was given an 18-month supervision order.

Julie Gray was given a 150-hour community service order and told to pay costs of £750.

The two daughters were given the same 150-hour order and ordered to pay £500 costs each.

No member of the family showed any sign of emotion as the judge passed sentence.

District Judge Andrew Vickers told Gray Senior, a traveller: "I know that you have a strong background with horses, equines, and are familiar with their behaviour and therefore it is all the more sad that you stand convicted of offences that your father and grandfather would have been ashamed of."

Addressing the female members of the family, Judge Vickers said: "You were all aware that animals, equines at Spindle Farm, were not being well cared for."

Addressing Gray Junior, the judge said: "There will need to be considerable work done to reflect your traveller culture and history and the way of life your family will follow.

"There are specific examples in which you were found being cruel certainly to one animal.

"The court is aware you were heavily involved with your father in horse trading."

RSPCA chief inspector Rob Skinner said he came across 32 carcasses when he went to look round in January last year.

Some of these had been burned and dumped on a bonfire, while others were simply left lying on the ground, covered in rubbish.

During the trial in Bicester last month, the court heard that one dead horse was found on the back of a trailer with ropes tied around its tail.

RSPCA inspector Kirsty Hampton, who visited the farm in the early stages of the investigation, described the suffering she witnessed as "distressing beyond measure".

"What we were confronted with on arrival at the farm was grotesque," she after the trial.

"To see animals in such awful condition was overwhelming and those that had survived were shown little care or consideration.

"Many horses and ponies had just been left to starve and the smell of rotting flesh was overpowering.

"It is the worst case of animal cruelty I have ever seen."

The court heard that, of the 140 animals on the farm, many were left starving with little food.

In total 115 horses, some severely emaciated, had to be rescued and removed from the site.

Inspectors returned to the farm over several days to discover more bodies.

Other living animals had to be put to sleep on the spot because of the condition they were in.

On one occasion, vets discovered a pile of seven horse skulls next to a gate and on another day they removed 97 horses from the property.

During the operation, vets said Gray Senior became aggressive towards them, shouting abusively.

Today Judge Vickers told Gray Senior that his 11 cruelty offences were of the highest level he had seen put before a Magistrates' Court.

"There was repeated evidence of your failure to obtain repeated veterinary treatment for equines that were suffering from illness or disease.

"I cannot accept that the economics of your trade can require you not to intervene or provide appropriate care."

The rescue at Spindle Farm resulted in one of the most expensive operations in history for the RSPCA.

The charity has spent more than £850,000 looking after 70 of the neglected animals and said the total operation had cost around £1.6 million.

Animal rights protesters clapped and cheered as Gray was led from the dock.

He and his family have launched an appeal against their convictions.