Man jailed after collapsed horse with ruptured eyeball put down in ‘harrowing case’

  • A man has been sent to prison after a horse found with a ruptured eyeball and unable to get to its feet had to be put down to end his suffering in a “harrowing” case.

    Ben Neill, 38, of no fixed abode, was sentenced at Barnstaple Magistrates’ Court on 3 May. At a trial on 21 January, heard in his absence as he failed to attend, he was found guilty of three animal welfare offences; causing unnecessary suffering to a geldings Eddy and Tye, and failing to meet the needs of Tye, Darcy and Dorcas.

    In March 2021 RSPCA inspector Claire Ryder launched an investigation after a member of the public called to report a horse collapsed in a muddy field in Landkey, near Barnstaple.

    An RSPCA spokesman said a vet attended and found thoroughbred type Eddy in a “terrible state”, unable to lift his head from the mud he was lying in, “let alone stand”. The vet believed Eddy had been down for some time, she was unable to get him to his feet, and there was “no alternative” but to put him down on welfare grounds to end his suffering.

    Ms Ryder said in her witness statement that Eddy’s hip bones were protruding and she could clearly see his spine and ribs. The gelding also had a ruptured eyeball.

    “The horse was lying in deep, wet mud. You could clearly see where he was trying to get up as there was a build-up of wet mud around the horse’s head, neck and back,” she said.

    Ponies Tye, Darcy and Dorcas were in a field next to Eddy with limited grazing and no shelter. The RSPCA spokesman said Tye was in poor condition, had severely overgrown hooves and was lame. He had difficulty walking, with a “rocking motion” as his hooves met the ground.

    The vet concluded the ponies were “likely to suffer” and they were signed over to the RSPCA. They were found to have lice and parasites, and their teeth were “in need of attention” with sharp points. They required sedation before their hooves could be trimmed.

    “Regardless of cause, veterinary intervention should have been sought for Eddy when faced with such extensive weight loss. Suffering unquestionably could have been prevented had they sought advice sooner,” read the vet evidence provided in court.

    “I have no doubt that Eddy and Tye were suffering unreasonably and unnecessarily and that this suffering had been present for at least a month.”

    In mitigation Neill told magistrates Eddy had been “jumping and bouncing around that morning”. He said he had done his best, he had not deliberately harmed the animals and he had got out of his depth.

    During sentencing magistrates told Neill he had shown little remorse. They highlighted his lack of appreciation of the animals’ suffering, that he failed to adhere to previous warnings and advice from the RSPCA, and that he saw the horses every day and must have known the condition they were in – particularly Eddy. The magistrates thanked the RSPCA for bringing the case and said it was the “most harrowing” they have had to deal with in the court.

    “We have listened to the case from the RSPCA and seen photos of the horse and ponies – Eddy had a ruptured eyeball, was hypothermic in a collapsed state, emaciated and unable to access food and water,” they said.

    Neill was banned from keeping equines for life, and cannot appeal this for 10 years. He was sentenced to six months in prison. In April 2021, after these offences were committed, the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill was made law, which increased the maximum sentence for animal welfare offences from six months to five years in prison.

    A second person was sentenced on 23 November 2021 for causing unnecessary suffering to Tye and for failing to meet the needs of Tye, Darcy and Dorcus. She was disqualified from keeping equines for 10 years, and cannot apply for the ban to be lifted for five years. She was made subject to a six-month curfew and was ordered to pay £400 costs.

    The RSPCA spokesman said Dorcus was later put down owing to the discovery of “untreatable” tumours. Tye and Darcy were rehomed to equine rescue charity Hugs Foundation, in Cornwall, which offers therapeutic interventions to young people, the elderly, and military personnel.

    Tye following his recovery

    “Darcy enjoys being brushed and led by children who visit the charity and Tye is currently on loan as part of their foster scheme and is loving life being spoiled with love and care,” he said.

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