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‘Click and buy’ deals wind up in court

A Durham-based business that specialises in Irish horse import and sales, largely via the internet, has fallen foul of trade and passports law in the wake of a second prosecution.

West View Farm Stables Ltd — already fined more than £8,000 by the courts — remains under scrutiny by its local council following a string of other complaints against the company.

“We’ve looked into complaints concerning misdescription and quality of horses and contractual terms relating to sales, and the matter is proceeding,” said a Durham County Council Trading Standards spokesman.

As reported in H&H, dealer Philip McAteer was first prosecuted under the Trade Descriptions Act by Flintshire County Council in a personal capacity and as director of West View Farm Stables Ltd, Bishop Auckland.

He was fined £750, while the company was fined £5,400, for having falsely advertised a horse as a seven-year-old, when in fact it was much younger.

In the latest 5 July court action, Northamptonshire County Council won its case, resulting in the same company being fined £2,475 and ordered to pay £1,335.80 legal costs.

Mr McAteer was not named in the charges — selling two horses without passports (fined £225 and £250), applying a false description to a horse (fined £1,000), and supplying a horse to which a false description was applied (fined £1,000).

However, he entered not guilty pleas to all bar one charge (passport offence related to the second horse) on behalf of the company before Towcester Magistrates Court.

The council’s Trading Standards team launched the prosecution on the back of a June 2005 complaint from a first-time horse buyer. Warmington-based Annette Stoker, who wanted a mature, quiet horse for her children, aged seven and 10.

Mrs Stoker purchased an eight-year-old Irish cob mare for £3,750 over the internet, only to find the horse lame on delivery. She was returned to the Durham stables.

The replacement, a gelding, billed as “four, rising five” and “quiet to ride” bucked Mrs Stoker off on the first ride.

Her vet said the horse was obviously immature — aged about 3½ — and “very unlikely to be of a suitable, quiet temperament for young children to ride”.

Mrs Stoker still owns the gelding, “Paddy”, has had him schooled and is now riding him.

“I never imagined that anyone would sell a novice family a very young horse because that is so dangerous,” she said.

Mrs Stoker said she hoped the successful prosecution would “prevent others being put at risk”, adding: “I will never make the same mistake. I won’t buy over the internet without seeing a horse with expert advice.”

H&H enquiries to Companies House reveal that Mr McAteer is currently the only director of West View Stables Ltd, located at the same address as the business listed in the two prosecution cases.

An application to the court for compensation to be awarded to Mrs Stoker was rejected. She claimed she made every effort to contact the company after delivery of the second horse, with no luck.

“Mr McAteer is disappointed the matter could not have been sorted out privately,” said his solicitor Mark Edmondson of Edmondson Hall in Newmarket. “If Mrs Stoker had contacted him formally with issues or complaints, he would have responded to her.”

Mr Edmondson said Mr McAteer was also disappointed with the court ruling against him.

A DEFRA spokesman said the case also marked one of the first successful passport prosecutions in England and Wales.

Another recent case involving 56 complaints against Doncaster dealer David John Thomas, of Misterton Carr Stables, resulted in a court order under the Enterprise Act 2002 — the first of its kind against a UK horse dealer.

A separate passports prosecution has been launched against Mr Thomas and his business partner, Dagmar Blick. They have pleaded not guilty to 14 charges of passport irregularities and will appear before Doncaster Magistrates Court on 12-13 September.

International League for the Protection of Horses (ILPH) spokesman Phil Spiby said H&H’s coverage, warning buyers to beware of internet deals that promote purchase of horses unseen or unvetted, had helped reduce the worrying trend.

  • Anyone with concerns about dealers can contact Consumer Direct (tel: 0845 4040506).
  • This report was first published in Horse & Hound (27 July, ’06)
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