A couple who run a livery yard in Billericay, Essex, have begun a legal battle for compensation in the High Court after a barn stacked with hay caught fire, killing two horses and wrecking their stables.

Anne and Francis White are demanding more than £200,000 compensation from suppliers LR & Sons, also of Billericay, saying the hay caught fire when stacked in their barn because it was damp.

The fire happened on 26 August 2004, according to a High Court writ.

Mr and Mrs White accuse the firm of breach of contract, and say the hay was not fit for its purpose nor of satisfactory quality and that it was foreseeable the damp hay would self-ignite.

Firemen rescued four horses but two died. The blaze destroyed both the hay barn and stables, which cost more than £116,000 to rebuild.

The couple are also seeking the replacement costs of 120 horse rugs at £6,600, £25,000 for four-year-old bay mare Liberty and £3,000 for hay, straw and other items lost.

Stephen Charge of LR & Sons said the company would contest the claim, which it believes to be “fraudulent”.

This article was first published in Horse & Hound (18 June, ’09)