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Lancashire Police are facing High Court accusations that they “mistreated” a valuable Palomino cob stallion, named Romeo, after taking him off a breeder and keeping him
for four months.

When police seized Romeo — who has sired progeny said to be worth tens of thousands of pounds — in April last year he was in good health, a High Court judge was told.

But when he was returned to Blackpool breeder William Brandon Brown in August, he had a range of veterinary problems including a lice and mite infestation, and had been given “a radical hair cut”, Kuldip Singh QC told the hearing last week.

Accusing the force of “mistreating and mismanaging” Romeo and “treating him like a police horse”, the barrister said he was seized from Mr Brown’s on what turned out to be groundless suspicions that he had been stolen.

Mr Brown said Romeo was living on his land to be used when his mare Sally came into season.

Now Mr Brown and the man who says he was Romeo’s owner — Irish horse dealer, Brian Cash — are suing the Lancashire Constabulary. They are claiming substantial damages and a five-figure sum in lost stud fees. The pair also allege trespass and that Romeo’s value was greatly reduced by the mistreatment he endured.

They also allege the horse was not properly exercised in police care.

However, the Lancashire force hotly denies that Romeo was in any way mistreated or that officers did anything wrong.

Among other things, the police want Mr Cash, who bred horses on the Moyne Estate, in Co Laois, to prove that he was Romeo’s owner at the time and that the horse held in police custody was indeed Romeo.

Police counsel Fiona Barton agreed there might have been a “technical trespass” on Mr Brown’s land when a police horsebox was taken onto his driveway to collect Romeo. But a search warrant was quickly brought to the scene.

Accusing the police of “unlawfully taking possession of Romeo”, Mr Singh argued there had been no reasonable grounds for suspecting he was stolen. In any event, he added, it had become clear within a few days of the horse’s seizure that he was not stolen.

Mr Brown said it was “well known” that Romeo was owned by Mr Cash, who told the court he had bought the stallion in 2004 and that his progeny — including fillies called Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio — fetched large sums of money, some of them even being exported to America.

After four days of evidence deputy High Court judge David Donaldson has reserved judgment in the case. He will give his ruling at a later date.

This news story was first published in Horse & Hound (20 December, ’07)