James Gray told a court yesterday that it was common for horses to “drop down dead”.

Gray, 45, of Spindle Farm, Hyde Heath, Buckinghamshire, said some of the animals found on his land had died without warning or displaying any sign of illness.

And he said some corpses, which were left lying on his property for several days, were “family pets” which he was waiting to bury.

The James Gray trial is being held at Bicester Magistrates’ Court, in Oxfordshire. He is being tried alongside his wife Julie Gray, 41, his daughters Jodie Gray, 26, and Cordelia Gray, 20, and another person who cannot be named.

They each deny 12 charges under the Animal Welfare Act which relate to causing unnecessary suffering to and failing to meet the welfare needs of horses, ponies and donkeys.

Over the eight-week trial the court has heard that of 140 animals at the farm, many were left with little food or dry bedding and were crammed into pens which were ankle deep in their own faeces.

They were often surrounded by the rotting corpses of other animals which had been left to die of starvation, claims the prosecution.

But Gray insisted today there had been no indication that some of his horses were close to death.

Referring to one animal found near a boundary fence between the family house and one of his fields, Robert Seabrook QC, prosecuting, said: “You say there had been no indication whatsoever that this horse was ill or depressed?” Gray replied: “No.”

“Horses don’t just drop dead, do they?” Mr Seabrook asked. Gray replied: “They do, yes.”

Mr Seabrook continued: “You say this was not unusual, for you to see horses with no signs of illness at all drop dead?” Gray agreed.

The court also heard that two Shetland ponies — one brown and white, and one palomino — were among the animals found to have died on the Gray family farm.

Mr Seabrook said: “This was again an example of an equine dying with no warning, was it?” Mr Gray replied: “That’s correct.”

Referring to another horse found dead in one of the fields, Mr Seabrook said: “You said it (the horse) had been in a very good condition and you came down one morning and it was dead?”

Gray replied: “I have had thin and fat horses drop dead. A fat horse can drop dead as well as a thin horse.”

Gray also rejected suggestions that the carcasses of a donkey — which he described as a family pet — a black gelding, and a mare and her foal were malnourished and “grossly
neglected” when they died.

He told the court: “They were eating well, they had a good body condition. “It was a late foal. Usually that would pull the mare down all winter but it didn’t pull this mare down.”

Mr Seabrook replied: “I suggest to you, Mr Gray, that you are making this up. I suggest that these horses had been grossly neglected.”

The defendant answered: “I suggest that they were not.”

RSPCA inspectors said they found 32 carcasses in different locations after being called to Spindle Farm on January 4 last year.

Some of these were burnt and dumped on a bonfire while others were left lying on the ground, covered in rubbish.

One dead horse was found on the back of a trailer with ropes around its tail, the court was told.

The trial continues.