A horse dealer at the centre of an exhaustive Trading Standards investigation, which came in the wake of an H&H exposé of websites that dupe buyers into purchasing horses unseen, has felt the sting of the law in a ground-breaking case.
Labelled a “rogue dealer” by Trading Standards officers, David John Thomas, of Misterton Carr Stables, Doncaster, will be held in contempt of court and face possible imprisonment if he commits further breaches of consumer protection laws.
That is the result of an order under the Enterprise Act 2002 — the first of its kind against a horse dealer in the UK — granted by Lincoln County Court on 13 February, which also demands that Mr Thomas pay £689.37 in legal costs.
Trading Standards officers in Doncaster took action under the Act to prevent “further detriment to consumers and protect the welfare of horses”.
They investigated 56 complaints against Mr Thomas, dating back to September 2004, indicating breaches of a range of consumer protection legislation, including the Sale of Goods Act.
A spokesman for Doncaster’s Trading Standards Service said horses were advertised by Mr Thomas — trading as Horse Imports, Horsebids, Melwood Stables, Happy Hackers, Online-24-Seven and Misterton Carr Stables — complete with money-back guarantees and claims they were suitable for novice riders and had perfect temperaments for children.
“In reality, many of the horses were lame, unsafe to be ridden and in some cases had to be put down,” said the spokesman.
Trading Standards officers were aware of at least six horses that had to be euthanased after purchase, together with separate personal injury cases involving three children, one of whom suffered suspected neck injuries and another a broken arm.
Trading Standards also reported that many buyers who complained to Mr Thomas claimed that instead of refunds, they received abuse and insults, leaving them thousands of pounds out of pocket and faced with the prospect of huge vet’s bills.
When contacted by H&H, Mr Thomas, who has moved his business premises from North Lincolnshire to Doncaster and now Nottinghamshire, declined to comment.
However, prior to the court order, he put buyers’ allegations down to scaremongering by fellow dealers, adding that the “proper place” for such claims was in a court of law (news, 8 September).
A long list of unhappy buyers who contacted H&H alleged horses were delivered lame, malnourished, covered in bite and kick marks or showing other health problems (coughing, back problems and in one case, navicular disease diagnosed at a post-sale vet check).
International League for the Protection of Horses director of UK operations Tony Tyler said the organisation had also received numerous complaints about horses purchased from Mr Thomas.
“We would never recommend anybody buying a horse either unseen or unvetted via the Internet because there are always unscrupulous dealers who will take advantage of the unwary,” he said.
As H&H went to press, Mr Thomas’s Horse Imports website still included a specific “buy without viewing” option.
Anyone with concerns about dealers can contact Consumer Direct (tel: 0845 4040506).
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