Michael Whitaker faces £150,000 bill

  • Riders Michael Whitaker and Billy Twomey have been found liable for damage to show jumper Fakir De La Lande as a result of an illegally and negligently administered injection.

    Whitaker has been ordered to pay £63,828.91 plus the costs of Lucy and Thierry Cabanne, the horse’s owners, which could amount to a total bill of more
    than £150,000.

    Lawyers for the Hampshire-based Cabannes claimed at a hearing at Cambridge County Court in January that “Franc” was left permanently damaged after the injection, which was given by a groom of Whitaker’s employee Billy Twomey, at Aldershot show in September 2001.

    Following the jab, the horse, which was eight at the time, developed a stiff neck, a sleepy left eye and larynx problems, which subsequently required tieback and Hobday procedures. The court was told that these reduced his symptoms but did not cure them.

    Judge John Sennitt agreed with the claimants — whose veterinary witnesses included Tim Greet from Rossdale’s Equine Hospital — that damage to Franc’s laryngeal and sympathetic nerves was almost certainly caused by the injection’s incorrect administration towards a vein.

    He said that the injection should have been given by a vet, and therefore contravened the Veterinary Surgeons Act. He added that because the procedure might be common this did not make it legal.

    No finding was made about the contents of the injection because the damage was caused by its administration rather than the substance. But Whitaker said it was a B12 vitamin injection while the owners believed it was Biodyl, a substance not licensed in the UK.

    In assessing the horse’s worth, the court heard evidence about the “Whitaker factor”, which estimated that 25% could be added to the horse’s value, should Whitaker fully recommend the animal. The judge put Franc’s value on 100,000 before the operation and 25,000 afterwards, calculating the loss as £51,370.

    Thierry Cabanne said: “I’m delighted with the verdict. The principle was what made us act — money is not going to replace the horse, which is happily grazing.”

    Michael Whitaker was competing abroad when he first heard about the verdict from Horse & Hound, which contacted him for a comment. Whitaker expressed surprise at the amount, and said he had not expected the sum to be so large. He will consider whether to make an appeal. He has until 6 April to appeal the verdict and the costs.

  • This story was first published in Horse & Hound (17 March ’05)

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