A horsebox dealer who stole 10s of 1000s of pounds from Horse & Hound readers has been given a suspended prison sentence at Gloucester Crown Court.

In February, Nick Hopson of Cotswold Horseboxes in Moreton Valence pleaded guilty at Stroud Magistrates Court to six counts of theft of money and one charge of obtaining money transfer by deception. In total, he admitted dishonestly taking £106,000 from clients.

On Tuesday, 29 July, Hopson was given a 12-month prison sentence, suspended for two years on the condition he do 250 hours’ unpaid community work over the next year.

“I’m seething — I’m so, so angry,” fumed Louise Hacker, Paralympic show jumper and reader of H&H, who assisted Gloucestershire police with the year-long investigation.

Louise paid Hopson a £25,000 deposit in 2005 for a box he never delivered. She plans to make an official complaint to the court.

“He’s getting away with it and I want my money back,” she said.

Wendy Brown paid Hopson £19,000 for a horsebox to take her and her teenage son’s horses to competitions. She, too, has been left with nothing.

“I’m absolutely fuming — I don’t know who to turn to, or where to go now with this. We’ve got nothing,” she told H&H. “I’ve been advised that I can take civil action, but he has no assets, so it will be a waste of money.

“He has to be stopped. It seems like anyone can set up a business, take money from you and claim to have no assets.”

DC Matt Phillips of Cirencester CID worked on the case. While police were pleased Hopson had been sentenced, he said: “In an ideal world every victim would have received back every penny they paid Mr Hopson but it would appear the courts did not feel it appropriate to make a compensation order”.

Jo Gates from Oxford suffered losses that forced her to give up her yard and take a full-time job. She parted with £13,000 and received nothing.

“I sold the ‘wonder horse’ I’d bred to William Fox-Pitt and decided to treat myself to a nice box,” she told H&H. “I took a friend, who is a sergeant with Thames Valley Police, with me, and I got receipts for my money — but all I got was excuses.

“I can’t believe the law says you can take someone’s money and not produce the goods,” she said. “He’s taken innocent people’s money and it’s not the first time he’s done it.”

This news story was first published in Horse & Hound (7 August, ’08)