A Kent horse trader who describes himself as the “Robin Hood of the horse game” has been found guilty of seven charges under the Trade Descriptions Act and one horse passport offence.

The charges came about after an undercover operation by BBC investigative reporters in 2005 into the business dealings of Tom Bonner.

Sue Edmonds of Kent Trading Standards (KTS) said: “This is a trader who seems to have serially broken the law. We are very grateful to have brought this one home. The BBC’s evidence was very important.”

Journalists from BBC South East Today posed as a couple wanting to buy a horse suitable for a novice. They bought a horse, whom they named Oscar, for £1,095 from Bonner’s yard in Darenth Hill, Darenth, which Bonner described as being an Irish hunter, aged nine or 10, and in good general condition. But vets who examined the horse after the purchase said he was nearer 21 years old and not fit to ride, as he had a large wound in his mouth.

The BBC investigation, along with the experiences of three other customers of Bonner, formed the KTS case against him that concluded at Gravesend County Court on Friday (11 January).

The trade descriptions act charges against Bonner were that he falsely described a horse called Rosie as being between six and eight years old when she was closer to 12; described another horse — Baby — as being nine years old when she was at least 15; stated Oscar was nine or 10 when he was at least 18, and told another buyer that the horse she had bought was seven or eight when it was closer to 12. He was also found guilty of selling a horse without a horse passport.

Graham Frid of KTS explained why Bonner’s action contravened the Trade Descriptions Act.
“It’s like a car dealer who is ‘clocking’ the cars,” he said. “People buy the horses thinking they are going to get X number of years believing the horse to be 10, but if it is 20 they don’t get the same value.”

The BBC challenged Bonner at London’s Southall market in 2005 after he declined to be interviewed. He told them that he was the “Robin Hood of the horse game” and “the best there is”.

Oscar was given to the International League for the Protection of Horses (ILPH) but has since been put down. Between them, the RSPCA and the ILPH told the BBC they had received more than 100 complaints about Bonner.

Ted Barnes of the ILPH said: “The conviction of Mr Bonner is an exceptionally good outcome.

“I hope it serves as a wake-up call to people who buy horses from these unscrupulous dealers. It has always been a case of buyer beware, but buyers need to be more choosy about where they take their business.”

The case at Gravesend was adjourned and Bonner will be sentenced on 28 February.

This news story was first published in Horse & Hound (17 January, ’08)