Norfolk farmer fined for causing suffering to an animal

PUBLISHED: 16:12 27 February 2014 | UPDATED: 17:00 27 February 2014

Melsop Farm Park owner Keith Stone is set to apply for a Zoo licence.
Photo: Nick Butcher
Copy: Celia Wigg
For:  EDP
Archant © 2005
(01603) 772434

Melsop Farm Park owner Keith Stone is set to apply for a Zoo licence. Photo: Nick Butcher Copy: Celia Wigg For: EDP Archant © 2005 (01603) 772434

Archant © 2005

The owner of a popular Norfolk petting farm has been fined for causing unnecessary suffering to an animal and failing to dispose of animal carcasses properly.

During the visit to Melsop Farm near Watton, inspectors found a donkey with painfully overgrown hooves and animal carcasses lying in a field, risking contaminating the food chain for other animals.

Norwich magistrates yesterday heard that the offences were the first in owner Keith Stone’s 40 years of farming and were caused by a costly bank error which had brought his 50,000-visitor-a-year business to the brink of folding.

The 52-year-old, who lives on the farm in Ellingham Road, Scoulton, pleaded guilty to a charge of causing unnecessary suffering to an animal and one of failing to dispose of animal carcasses in accordance with regulations.

Investigators visited the farm on April 16, 2013, and found a donkey named Merlin suffering with “chronic lameness” because overgrown hooves on its front feet, trading standards officer Paul Boeuf told the court.

“In the vet’s opinion the donkey would have been caused unnecessary suffering for a period of at least two months,” he said.

In a separate field the inspectors also a ewe and its lambs walking around a pile of dead animals, including sheep, lambs and poultry, and discovered a dead sheep in a plastic bag in a feed storage room.

Deborah Sharples, mitigating, said that Stone had cooperated with trading standards officers and immediately signed Merlin over to a charity which could deal with his condition, but that the offences were his “first blemish” in 40 years of farming.

She said Stone had been “anxious and distracted” because of an error which saw his bank taking up to £1,200 a month more than it was due for his mortgage, which took nine months to rectify, and would have seen the business run out of money by Easter 2013.

She said the failure to cut Merlin’s hooves was an “act of omission, not commission” as he had asked two work experience students to care for the animal, but had “placed too much reliance” on them.

The dead animals were not stored in the secure bins they should have been as the farm, like others in the country, had seen higher-than-expected mortality rates due to the cold winter and Stone owed money to the company which cleared the bins because of the bank error. Magistrates were also presented with letters from vets vouching for Mr Stone’s record of high standards.

Stone was ordered to pay a £400 fine and a £40 surcharge for the unnecessary suffering charge, and make a £400 contribution to prosecution costs. There was no separate penalty for the second charge.

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