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An alleged rustler who went on the run after being found guilty of stealing five horses has won the right to challenge what he claims is his wrongful conviction.

Tony Thackaberry of Green Lane, Outwood, Surrey, was found guilty in his absence of three counts of theft at Lewes Crown Court in August 2009 and was later sentenced to four years in prison.

But Thackaberry, 46, denies the offences and has won the right to have his case heard at the Court of Appeal.

Thackaberry was convicted of theft after the disappearance of three horses, two foals and a horsebox from a farm in Cowfold, West Sussex, in July 2008.

He didn’t show up for his trial, but was found guilty after the jury heard his DNA was on a cigarette stub found at the scene.

After failing to surrender following his conviction, the police launched a nationwide search for him in September.

Thackaberry was eventually discovered in a Swedish prison, brought back to the UK last July and ordered to serve the four years for the thefts consecutive to the sentence he had been given in Sweden.

Michael Roques, acting for Thackaberry, said the trial judge failed to explain his absence properly to the jury and prejudiced the case when describing interview evidence.

Judge Davis ruled that the grounds of appeal against conviction were “arguable”.

He added: “The jury could have been left in some confusion as to the significance of what the defendent had or had not said in a [police] interview.”

This news story was first published in the current issue of Horse & Hound (2 June, 2011)