Trading Standards has launched an investigation into allegations surrounding an auction in Devon at which around 80 horses and ponies were sold at the end of last month.

Eyewitnesses have raised safety concerns and described some animals as being in poor health and in need of veterinary attention. The sale, at Diggers Cross Farm, near Combe Martin, on 26 June, was administered by West Country auctioneer company, Stags.

Diana Lewis, a local former RSPCA inspector, says: “I was alerted by the RSPCA [whose nearest inspector was several hours away] and asked to assess the situation. The complainants were not animal rights people but members of the farming community, who told me that if they took animals like some of these to market, they’d be ordered to take them home.

“There was some very good stock there, fetching upwards of £1,000, but a number of horses should never have gone through. One foal had an abscess on its face with pus and maggots in it. A Shetland mare had a hypodermic needle in her flank. One mare was close to foaling. Another had a bad leg.”

Michael Powell, a partner of Stags, which runs 150 farm sales a year, confirmed that Trading Standards had been in touch with his colleagues. He added: “Some allegations have been withdrawn and the investigation may be to do with sheep. In livestock markets, we certainly turn stock away if it is not fit for sale.”

A spokesman for DEFRA confirms that it was alerted to welfare issues at the sale and that Trading Standards was dealing with the matter.

An RSPCA spokesman says: “Trading Standards is looking at possible breaches of markets legislation, including welfare, and we are not going to duplicate their investigation at this stage. Under the Horses at Markets Order 1990 it’s an offence to permit an unfit horse to be presented for sale. Responsibility would be joint between the owner and whoever was running the sale.”

A spokesman for Exeter Trading Standards animal health division confirms:
“We are aware and we are investigating the horse sale. It’s not appropriate for us to comment further at this time.”

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