Cruel Horse Trader Jailed


James Gray was found guilty of the worst case of animal cruelty seen by the RSPCA.

A horse trader who went on the run while awaiting sentence for what the RSPCA described as the worst case of animal cruelty it had even seen started an eight-month jail sentence today. James Gray, who ill-treated more than 100 horses, ponies and donkeys on his family's farm, was arrested after being stopped by police during a random check on the M5 near Bromsgrove, Worcestershire, yesterday.

The 46-year-old had absconded from Aylesbury crown court, Buckinghamshire, two weeks ago, and was given a 26-week prison sentence in his absence. Today, he was given an extra eight weeks' jail by the same court for breaking his bail conditions.

Gray's imprisonment comes after lengthy court proceedings that followed the discovery by the RSPCA and police of dead and emaciated horses at Spindles Farm, at High Heath, near Amersham.

The RSPCA chief inspector Rob Skinner said: "This is such an appalling and shocking case, not just because of the terrible suffering the animals endured, but because of the lack of compassion shown by members of the family who seemed to think it was OK to sit back and watch it happen." Thanking West Mercia police for spotting Gray's car using number plate recognition, he hoped the trader would never own another animal in his lifetime.

The investigation cost the RSPCA more than £2.3 million, including veterinary treatment and care of the rescued horses, who will now be rehomed. The British Horse Society had previously described the "mistreatment" and "carnage" discovered by rescuers in January 2008 as "unprecedented in Britain".

Gray and his teenage son, also called James, had appealed against convictions and sentencing after being found guilty of 11 charges each under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 in a trial last year. Gray had been sentenced to 24 weeks' imprisonment, a sentence that was put on hold. Two of the charges were subsequently dropped and 17-year-old Gray was acquitted of two other charges following the appeal. He is now under an 18-month supervision order. Gray Sr was sentenced to 26 weeks' jail time earlier this month after he left court during a lunch break. His barrister Michael Fullerton told today's hearing Gray was "overcome with a set of nerves" at his unsuccessful appeal and acted on the spur of the moment. Sentencing him, Judge Christopher Tyrer said: "This is a final act of betrayal of yourself, by yourself."
He had "trusted" Gray to stay in the court building rather than being sent down into cells while he was considering his sentence. Tyrer said: "I allowed you to stay in the foyer and not to go outside.

"Instead, you went down the stairs, past the security guards, who have no power to stop you. You went to the step to apparently smoke a cigarette, all contrary to what I had told you you were permitted to do, and ultimately you left."

Tyrer had described the cruelty at the hearing earlier this month as "the worst case ever experienced by the RSPCA", and "on a scale that beggars belief".
Gray's wife, Julie, 42, and daughters Jodie, 27, and Cordelia, 21, had each been found guilty of two animal welfare offences. The women were each given 150-hour community service orders.

Gray Sr was banned from keeping horses, ponies and donkeys for life while his wife, son and daughters were banned from doing so for 10 years. He has already been ordered to pay the RSPCA £400,000. A further costs hearing will take place later this year.


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