The RSPCA says it is “devastated and sickened” that 11 donkeys and 18 Shetland ponies could be returned to Spindle Farm owner Jamie Gray.

On 4 January, 31 equines were found dead at Spindle Farm in Amersham, and 111 other horses, ponies and donkeys were rescued in one of the biggest horse welfare cases on record in the UK.

James John Gray, Julie Gray, Cordelia Gray and Jodie Gray, of Spindle Farm, Hyde Heath, Amersham made an application to Oxford Magistrates Court on Friday, 4 April, to have the equines returned to them.

At the hearing, Deputy District Judge Sandeep Kainth allowed the 29 Shetlands and donkeys to go back to Spindle Farm saying “there is no evidence to show they are in any danger”.

But he ordered the remaining horses to be sold at auction at Henley-in-Arden, Warwickshire in May.

This morning, the RSPCA said it is looking at “all available legal avenues” to challenge the court’s decision.

RSPCA deputy head of press Becky Hawkes told H&H: “We are sickened by the decision, and will continue to do everything we can to safeguard the welfare of the equines involved.”

She added: “We are looking into all legal avenues in order to challenge the court’s decision — even though there is no mechanism to appeal this decision under the Animal Welfare Act.”

In court on Friday James John Gray, Julie Gray, Cordelia Gray, Jodie Gray and a juvenile pleaded not guilty to 12 charges related to section 4 and section 9 of the Animal Welfare Act 2006 — which cover causing unnecessary suffering to and failing to meet the needs of a total of 125 equines.

The pre-trial review for this case has been scheduled for 28 April 2008, and will also be heard at Oxford Magistrates Court.

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