A PEMBROKESHIRE farmer has narrowly avoided a custodial sentence after admitting cruelty to animals.
Gwilym Gilmour Thomas, 42, of Lodor Fach, Maenclochog, sat with his head bowed, as the three charges of causing unnecessary suffering under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 were read out.
Thomas pleaded guilty at the first opportunity to failing to adequately care for a Palomino Stallion, a Strawberry Roan mare and a Strawberry Roan horse.
There were emotional scenes in the court room as the defendant, from the dock, and his wife, from the public gallery, sobbed uncontrollably throughout the proceedings. His wife was comforted by a member of court staff.
Prosecutor Jon Tarrant told Haverfordwest Magistrates that this was the worst case of neglect of horses that the informing RSPCA officer, Mr. Abbott, had ever come across in all his years of experience.
Jon Tarrant told the court: “On April 11 the RSPCA visited a parcel of land in the vicinity of Rosebush, south of the Preseli’s. An officer photographed and videoed three horses, and a pony.”
“One animal had already died, while another was close to death, and the other two were severely malnourished; being 50-60% underweight” he added.
John Tarrant continued: “The first field the officer entered was extremely bare, and there appeared to be an area where a bail of hay had been put out previously. In that field the officer saw one horse which was struggling to lift its head and looking disorientated”
“He also found an empty bath tub which had barbed wire in the bottom of it, which had previously been used for water for the animals” he said.
John Tarrant continued: “On attempts to recover the surviving animals, one of those horses tried to evade capture – but it had to stop every so often as a result of its poor condition.”
“The fourth horse, found in another field, was estimated to have died 24 to 48 hours previously.
In a recorded interview with RSPCA officers, Thomas simply said: “I’ve failed them, I can’t forgive myself – I never realised they were struggling, I failed them.”
Defence solicitor Richard Griffiths asked “whose responsibility is it in the main to look after the horses?”
Mr Thomas’ father owns the field and the horses but generally asks his son to feed the animals.
In interview, Thomas senior said: “If I had any idea they were going down, I would have done something”.
Defending, Richard Griffiths, told the court: “My client has admitted his guilt. In interviews he was extremely sorry for what had happened to the horses.
“However, whilst admitting responsibility, you will notice from the bundle that there were two people interviewed under caution,” he said.
Mr Griffiths continued: “The defendant’s father also admitted he was at fault, but because of his age and ill health, it was decided not to be in the public interest to prosecute him.”
Mr Griffiths read out extracts of the interview between the RSPCA and the defendant’s father, Thomas senior. Mr Griffiths told the court: “It seems that the defendant’s duty was to bring food to the horses on an ‘as and when’ basis, on the instructions of his father.”
“His father suffered from chest pains and was unable to walk the length of the paddocks,” he added.
“A lady, who also had horses in the paddock, had been helping as well with the care of the animals,” he said.
“Once the lady had taken her horses away Thomas senior had forgotten to inform anyone including the defendant. This is the reason why the animals became malnourished,” Mr Griffiths explained.
“Despite viewing the animals daily, Thomas senior could only do so from a distance because he was unable to walk far. It seems that the majority of the responsibility rests with someone who is not before the court, and the defendant only played a minor role,” he said.
Mr Griffiths went on to say: “In fact, the defendant is in charge of a thousand livestock and has an excellent record.
“Last winter, one of the worst on record, he did not lose a single animal. This is testament to his attention and care of the animals he is fully responsible for.
‘’My client lives in a static caravan with his wife on the farm,” he said.
“He shares the facilities of the main house, but only receives £25 per week allowance from the business, despite working up to 17-hour days,” he told the court.
The clerk of the court told the magistrates: “This is an offence where you have to impose a custodial sentence. You have to follow your guidelines, you have no option
“However, it is within your powers to suspend the sentence,” he added.
Thomas was given a one year suspended jail sentence, ordered to undertake 300 hours of unpaid work and was disqualified from keeping horses for five years. He was ordered to pay prosecution costs of £1102.60.
Speaking after the hearing Richard Abbot said “The decision to prosecute Gwilym Thomas was one which was made by a case management officer at RSPCA headquarters.”
“It is my view that he should not have been prosecuted without his father being before the court as well.”
“Animals have suffered over a long period of time. Usually in cases like this people deserve to go to prison.
I was however, worried in court that William Thomas would get a prison sentence as this is not what he deserves.”
Speaking to The Herald, John Tarrant said: “The RSPCA is stuck between a rock and a hard place. They would be criticised for prosecuting and they would have been criticised for not prosecuting this case.”
CAPTION: One of the surviving horses, two died. Some of the photos are too shocking to publish.