At least three horses, who were put out on loan in good faith by their owners in Scotland, have been sent for slaughter without their owners’ consent.
Julie McConaghy, 34, from Greenock, Renfrewshire, was one of the owners involved. She decided that her 14-year-old coloured gelding, Drum, should be retired as he was suffering from an ongoing unsoundness.
Browsing the local papers, she came across the following advertisement in the Ad Trader Yellow Pages: “Wanted. Horse or pony as a companion. Need not be sound. Free or small fee. Knowledgeable home.”
She contacted the advertiser, Val Locke of Bonnybridge, Stirlingshire, and went to visit what was to become Drum’s new home.
Julie says: “I was very impressed by the set-up. Drum was to be a companion to an in-foal Arab mare who was in beautiful condition. I thought there was nothing to worry about.”
Julie delivered her gelding on the understanding that he would be there for an eight-week trial period, at the end of which a proper loan agreement would be drawn up.
“From the outset it was made clear that this was a loan arrangement and did not involve a change of ownership,” continues Julie, who kept in touch with Mrs Locke on a regular basis, the most recent contact being as little as two-and-a-half weeks ago.
A few days later, she spotted a “for sale” advert for the very same Arab mare to whom Drum was meant to be a companion, and alarm bells started ringing.
Julie went straight to the Locke’s farm, but there was no sign either of her horse or of Mrs Locke. She feared that Drum was being used at the blood bank managed by Mrs Locke’s husband, but with no sign of the gelding at the blood bank either, she reported him stolen to the police.
She returned to the farm and confronted Mrs Locke, who said to her: “I’m sorry my love, he’s not here. He’s dead!”
Louise Kirk of Strathclyde reported a very similar incident involving her 10-year-old mare, Sharon. She is kicking herself for having no properly drawn up loan agreement, but says that she was completely convinced by Val Locke.
“The stables were beautiful, there was plenty of grazing and her mare was in great condition. It didn’t occur to me that I could have anything to worry about.”
Canon Professor Barry Peachey, chairman of The Equine and Animal Lawyers Association stresses the importance of having a written loan agreement.
“Loan agreements should always be in writing. It should establish who the owner is, who is to pay veterinary fees, etc. Above all, it should state upon whose authority the animal may be destroyed. And while a verbal agreement may be legally binding, it is worthless in evidence, so is of no use whatsoever.”
He continued: “This is a case of theft, pure and simple. The destruction of someone else’s property for financial gain.”
While Val Locke does not deny that she sent Drum to the abattoir, she does claim that the horse was in fact not on loan to her, but that he was hers to do with as she saw fit.
The Red Lion Abattoir in Nantwich, Cheshire, has confirmed that Julie’s skewbald gelding arrived in a batch of horses delivered on the 17 December 2003, which was the second lot to be brought to them by Val Locke’s son-in-law, Darren Smith.
A spokesperson from the abattoir stressed their ignorance in this whole matter: “We had never heard of Val Locke before this transpired. We did everything that we possibly could to ensure that the animals in question were dealt with properly. We gave Darren Smith somewhere between £280-£390 for each horse.
“The correct paperwork was filled out and as far as we knew, the horses were signed over by their owner or by their owner’s agent. We are co-operating fully with the police in this matter and hope to see it resolved as quickly as possible”.
The case is being investigated by the Central Scotland Police force, which has acknowledged “inquiries are ongoing, and we are trying to establish a chain of events before we can even consider pressing charges”. There is no evidence that any of the horses involved were maltreated at any stage.
Anyone with information on this case should contact Sgt Thomson (tel: 01324 823688).