INSPECTORS from the RSPCA inspectors found the bodies of two dead donkeys and seven others in an emaciated state when they were called to a Ribble Valley farm.
A court heard the living donkeys had “corkscrew” hooves which made them lame and one, which had to be carried from the field on a makeshift stretcher, later had to be put down.
The six adults and one foal had no food or shelter at a time last December, when the country was in the grip of Arctic conditions. And the man responsible for their care at the time was already banned from keeping horses, cows or sheep because of an incident four years earlier involving a horse which also had to be destroyed.
Graham Gott (61), of Harrop Lodge Farm, Smalden Lane, Slaidburn, Clitheroe, pleaded guilty at Hyndburn Magistrates’ Court to breaching an Animal Welfare disqualification and three charges of failing to ensure the welfare of animals in his care. He was banned from keeping any animals for a further 10 years and ordered to pay £4,300 in costs.
Mr Chris Wyatt (prosecuting) said when inspectors attended at the remote farm in December there was two feet of snow on the ground and temperatures were sub-zero. They found several dead chickens, ducks and geese before coming across the emaciated carcass of a donkey outside a barn. Inside the building they found the body of a donkey foal.
The inspectors began checking the fields around the farm and a trail of blood splattered on the snow led them to a field where the seven living donkeys were kept.
All the animals were in a poor condition and one had a deep cut on its leg which had probably been caused by barbed wire. They had no food and all had overgrown, corkscrew hooves which meant they had to walk on their heals.
“One of the donkeys was too weak to walk to the transport and had to be carried on a makeshift stretcher made from sacks,” said Mr Wyatt. “That animal had to be put down about a week later.”
He said vets who inspected the animals said they had been neglected for a considerable period of time. He said the animals were owned by Gott’s father, 88-year-old Jack Gott, who expressed surprise that the donkeys were in a poor condition. He said he had been ill and Graham had been looking after all the stock on the farm.
“Jack Gott really played a large role in these offences but the RSPCA made the decision not to prosecute him because it would not have been in the public interest,” said Mr Wyatt.
Mr John Lee (defending) said his client had been “caught between a rock and a hard place” when his father was taken ill with pneumonia. He was in hospital for two weeks and bedridden for another three.
“My client was asked to look after the stock and he genuinely did not think that would put him in breach of the disqualification,” said Mr Lee.
“He feels aggrieved by the prosecution. His father was the owner of the farm and all the animals on the farm and any suggestion he wasn’t aware his son was disqualified is nonsense.”
He said Jack Gott had been taken ill with pneumonia and for five weeks was incapable of looking after his animals.
“The RSPCA take the view he is too elderly to prosecute, but I ask you to take into account that the animals and the farm were his,” said Mr Lee. “The charges relate only to the period of five weeks when my client was looking after the animals and the vets says the donkey’s had suffered for much longer than that.”
“My client now realises he made a wrong decision and when his father became ill he should have contacted the RSPCA and explained his dilemma,” added Mr Lee.
l In a statement issued after the case, international animal welfare charity The Donkey Sanctuary welcomed the successful prosecution of Graham Gott.
The charity had rescued the seven surviving donkeys from Gott’s property in co-operation with Trading Standards and the RSPCA last December.
Molly Lloyd, a regional welfare officer for the charity for the past 18 years, said: “This was one of the worst cases of neglect I’ve seen. We were shocked to discover many animals at Mr Gott’s farm, including two dead donkeys and seven others who were gravely ill.
“We were lucky to get there when we did; one of the donkeys was carried onto the lorry as she was so weak. I am really pleased to see justice done for the donkeys who suffered so terribly under the care of Mr Gott.”
Anna Harrison, the Sanctuary’s veterinary surgeon for welfare cases of this type, added: “On the rescue day it was obvious that these donkeys, including a young foal, were depressed and some were emaciated, their skin tightly bound over their bones. Their hooves were cruelly twisted and overgrown.
“There had been heavy snowfall and there was no shelter, frozen water and no food. They were slowly starving to death in one of the most severe winters we have experienced in recent years.”
The donkeys – subsequently named by Sanctuary staff as Beauty, Chrissy, Eric, Florence, Little Lad, Mary and Prince – were taken straight to The Donkey Sanctuary’s headquarters in Sidmouth, Devon, where the charity provides expert care and permanent refuge to thousands of donkeys.
Unfortunately Mary and Chrissy never recovered from their neglect and were put to sleep by the Sanctuary’s veterinary team to end their suffering.
Vet Anna Harrison added: “It is totally unacceptable for any animal to be subjected to this extreme level of suffering. Any reasonably competent owner would have seen that the donkeys were in a suffering state and should have taken action.
“We’re glad to be able to provide a sanctuary for life to the surviving donkeys and are pleased that Mr Gott has been successfully prosecuted.”
To learn more about The Donlkey Sanctuary’s work and the surviving donkeys’ recovery stories call 01395 578222 or visit: www.thedonkeysanctuary.org.uk