BY NIGEL BEAN & PAUL READ
In 2011, David Roberts, a Caernarfon pony breeder, loaned some ponies out to a woman who, unbeknown to David, failed to care for them properly. After David was contacted by a concerned neighbour about their condition, he took them back in and started to restore them to health. All good? No. David arrived at his stable one day to find his ponies being taken away to an unspecified location – he was facing ten charges under the Animal Welfare Act.
The case was thrown out and David was cleared of all 10 charges against him later suggesting his accuser had been ‘going out of its way to find fault in what was otherwise a well-run stable’.
Onto another David – David Hinde:
An unwell foal was discovered by a trespassing, malicious neighbour who was trying to force David to move. The neighbour, who worked for the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, had been allowed to roam over the farm by the owner. However, when David became the tenant, he did not like the man having free access to the land but accepted the man could visit the owl boxes on the perimeter of the farm. This was not sufficient for this neighbour and, while David was away dealing with a medical emergency, the neighbour trespassed and found a foal lying unwell in a stable.
He had David’s number but instead of calling him, as any normal person might, he reported the situation to a charity. David was notified and attempted to explain the situation but that afternoon all the ponies were illegally seized on the grounds the farm had been abandoned, even though the ponies had been attended to as recently as the previous evening.
A vet examining the seized ponies for David just two days later saw the foal standing in a stable. The same vet visiting the ponies 16 days after seizure found the foal now living out. The vet could not catch the foal and had to get help from two people, together they chased the foal into the stable for examination. The owner of the ponies, Cynthia (David’s Mother), applied in civil court to have them returned to her but this was refused.
Six and a half months later, two weeks outside the legal time limit, charges were brought against David accusing him of starving the foal. Further charges claimed other ponies were in poor bodily condition – totally false – all other ponies were in good condition.
On the first day of the trial David was offered a deal by the prosecution – if he pleaded guilty a banning order would not be sought. David’s own solicitor spent a couple of hours trying to persuade him to accept the deal. David now made what he claims is the biggest mistake of his life and pleaded guilty. The charity bringing the prosecution then asked for the banning order, going back on their offer.
David was subsequently banned from keeping horses for three years and fined £1,200. He appealed the sentence, and, at the appeal, his barrister told David that in an appeal against sentence he was not allowed to say he had pleaded guilty only in exchange for a banning order not being sought, and he should have been appealing against the conviction, or applying to vacate the guilty plea. Naturally David withdrew the appeal unaware that if he lost, he could be liable for full costs. David was ordered to pay costs of £95,000.
Cynthia (David’s mother) appealed on the same day against the decision not to return the ponies to her and lost, then somehow, she became roped into sharing the costs of David’s prosecution. She was ordered to pay £89,000, even though no charges or convictions had been brought against her. The Court awarded ownership of the ponies to the charity who also secured a charging order on the parent’s farm, which was not owned by David.
David was forced to give up his farm and move back to live with his parents. Several ponies were moved out to livery yards to reduce the numbers kept on their farm. A small group owned by David’s father, Raymond, were taken to a yard near Preston. The yard owner was paid board and feed. David and his parents thought everything was fine until the yard owner rang up out of the blue to say one pony was on the verge of death. As Raymond was ill, David and an employee went to the yard to discover she had not been feeding the ponies, two were starving and one was close to death and had to be euthanized.
Police turned up with a warrant to search only outside at David’s parent’s farm but went ahead and searched the house as well. Despite no vet being present the cats on site were seized on the grounds they had cat flu and that David was banned from keeping cats. He wasn’t. David asked to call in a vet to examine the cats, but this was refused. David’s mobile phone was seized, along with some documents and horse/pony passports.
Subsequently, two veterinary surgeries used by David were raided with a demand that veterinary records be handed over.
Charges were brought on the last day of the time limit. David was charged with causing the death of a pony and breaking the ban. David and his parents were charged with keeping cats in an unsuitable environment and failing to provide suitable veterinary treatment. Raymond was charged with assisting David to break the ban. The yard owner was originally charged with causing the death of the pony, but the charges were soon dropped when she became a prosecution witness.
At this point the three-year ban had just run out. At the trial, David’s parents were not present and not represented. It was stated that the breeding of cats should be done on separate premises, not in one’s own home, although there is no law against this. It was said the house was untidy and unhygienic – this was emphatically denied. None of the cats were found to have cat flu when subsequently examined. They were later re-homed.
The woman who starved the pony claimed she was being paid only to board the ponies and was not responsible for their feeding. She claimed Raymond was paying a lower rate of £120 for boarding only, whereas the higher rate to include feeding was £145. However, a stopped cheque from Raymond for £145, sent to the yard owner, was produced in court by the prosecution. When the defence pointed out the amount, the prosecution said, ‘That’s a bum point. The important thing is that it was stopped.’ It proved the witness was lying, the judge knew the witness was lying. It made no difference.
David was found guilty of starving the pony and of breaking the ban due to having given permission to the vet to put the pony down. David and his parents were found guilty of keeping cats in an unsuitable environment and failing to get veterinary treatment for cats with gingivitis and ear mites, although veterinary records showed these cats were being treated. Raymond was found not guilty of assisting David to break the ban.
David was banned from keeping all animals for twelve years and given a five-month prison sentence suspended for twelve months. David’s parents were banned from keeping all animals except dogs for five years and fined £1,000. Costs of over £300,000 were applied for but the judge said prosecution delays had increased these and ordered the defendants to pay £90,000.
Among the outpouring of abuse on social media were comments from a woman who said several of the ponies seized from David’s farm had been brought to her yard where they were put down. If the woman’s claims are true, the charity put down several healthy ponies.
The evening before the appeal was due to begin, David lost legal representation, took a drugs overdose and was admitted to hospital but the judge refused to adjourn. The appeal went ahead with no appellants, no witnesses, and no legal counsel. It was dismissed.
At the sentencing hearing an attempt was made to push through Raymond’s appeal in a similar way to others, without appellant, witnesses, or legal counsel. Prosecution turned up with all their witnesses and claimed the appeal was that day, although the date had not been set. They almost got away with it.
The length of bans were not increased, but the suspension of David’s prison sentence was increased to 18 months. The schedule of costs were not submitted in time, so the prosecution were not awarded the £250,000 they had been seeking. David and Cynthia were ordered to pay £18,000 in costs.
Raymond’s appeal began. Prosecution claimed to be frightened of Raymond stating he had threatened serious injury or death – totally untrue. Despite the cats being micro-chipped and registered to David, Raymond lost his appeal, was banned from keeping all animals for life and ordered to pay costs of £6,000. Court gave him 42 days to re-home his ponies.
Before 42 days had ended the ponies were seized from fields near Pontefract. Whilst waiting to take his case to high court, Raymond was admitted to hospital and deemed not expected to live. David and Cynthia had just returned from spending all night at hospital when their farm was raided and ponies, cats and hens were seized. Also seized were four mobile phones, a computer, cameras, memory sticks, a Dictaphone and paperwork, including privileged legal documents relating to prosecutions against David and his parents.
David and Cynthia were refused leave to visit Raymond, despite being told he was likely to die that day. David literally got down on his knees and begged police to allow at least Cynthia to leave, to no avail. Cynthia was eventually allowed to leave at about half past two. David was not allowed to leave until the raid had finished at about seven o’clock. On a happier note, and to David and Cynthia’s joy and amazement, against all predictions of doctors, Raymond survived.
What else could go wrong for David and family?
An old school friend of David’s brother, now a policewoman, approached with an offer of help. She would set up a trust for the ponies not taken in the raid (they were missed due to an error on the warrant), in an effort to keep the herd together and preserve the breed. She received ponies and money. The ponies then disappeared, and it transpired that the policewoman had stolen them, some had been sold and Raymond’s signature forged. She claimed to have shot others but then around half of them suddenly reappeared in the field, dumped by the policewoman, she had broken a padlock in the middle of the night to gain access.
David made a complaint about the policewoman, but the police stated it was obvious she was “only trying to help”. No charges were brought, despite her committing a series of offences including theft, fraud, forgery, and criminal damage.
Police posted an abandonment notice, purporting not to know who the owners were. They requested the ponies be signed over to them, this was refused. The policeman involved claimed no one had come forward as the owner, so he had them “re-homed”.
Charges regarding the Pontefract ponies were brought a few days after the time limit, charges regarding the farm ponies and hens were brought three months beyond the time limit. David was charged with offences against both ponies and hens and with breaking the ban. David lost legal representation shortly before the trial, but the judge refused to adjourn. The prosecution barrister invited David to speed up matters by changing his plea to guilty.
David tried his best to represent himself, but he had no witnesses and was not allowed to use in his defence the veterinary expert witness report. It was claimed all hens were very underweight – untrue. The seized hens were Peking bantams, a smaller and lighter breed of hen. The veterinary expert witness didn’t know what breed they were and said weights of all types of hen should be the same. The expert witness was also the seizing vet – a conflict of interest. All police body-cam footage recording events that day had been “lost”. David was found guilty. Prosecution costs of £354,000 were sought.
Permission had been refused for a vet to examine the ponies to ascertain current condition. Location of some of the ponies was discovered, and covertly taken photographs obtained which showed the ponies in a neglected state, worse than anything of which David was accused. These photographs were offered to newspapers, but none would publish the story. A reporter subsequently published the photographs in a blog and on Facebook.
The judge referred sentencing to crown court, where David was sentenced to 46 weeks in prison and banned from keeping animals for life. There was no coverage at all in national newspapers. The claim for costs against David was dropped, because the prosecution could not prove that he was the owner of any of the animals.
David is now out of prison and monitored by electronic ankle bracelet. An appeal has been lodged but an objection has been raised claiming it is out of time.
The RSPCA. Too often the RSPJAH these days – the Royal Society for the Prevention of Justice towards Animals and Humans. Shape up, stop getting things wrong – or ditch the “royal”.
Editorial assistance from “Famous Flower”.
Update: the world knows decency even if the RSPCA is flawed: