Owner of Rainbow Meadows animal sanctuary near Fakenham banned from keeping horses for life over “prolonged neglect”

Dancer, one of the horses removed from Rainbow Meadows Animal Sanctuary (Picture: Ian Burt)

Dancer, one of the horses removed from Rainbow Meadows Animal Sanctuary (Picture: Ian Burt) - Credit: Archant

Animal sanctuary owner William Hand has been banned from keeping horses for life after 'prolonged neglect' which left a herd of 20 emaciated and starving.

William Hand at the Rainbow Meadows Horse Sanctuary with Sarah the horse. Picture: Ian Burt

William Hand at the Rainbow Meadows Horse Sanctuary with Sarah the horse. Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: Ian Burt

Action was taken on November 19 last year at the Rainbow Meadows Horse Rescue at Foulsham, near Fakenham, after concerns were repeatedly raised about the horses' welfare.

Vets from Redwings intervened with Trading Standards and World Horse Welfare but were unable to save one horse which had to be put down. Investigations revealed sand in the animals faeces after they had desperately foraged for food in the dirt of the former scrapyard.

Fifty-two-year-old Hand and his son Nathan Page, 18, each admitted eight charges of causing unnecessary suffering to 20 horses by failing to provide an adequate diet, provide parasite control and failing to address the causes of poor body condition. In addition they pleaded guilty to a charge of failing to take reasonable steps to protect 7 horses from pain, suffering, injury and disease.

Prosecutor Alan Wheetman told the court the 'most mystifying' part of the case was up to three tonnes of animal feed had been on site, donated by well-wishers. Since being removed, some of the horses have gained up to 15 stone in weight.

Lord Leap, one of the horses removed from Rainbow Meadows Animal Sanctuary

Lord Leap, one of the horses removed from Rainbow Meadows Animal Sanctuary - Credit: Archant

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'It would have be obvious to any competent animal carer, let alone any purporting to run a sanctuary, that veterinary treatment should be provided,' added Mr Wheetman.

'Perhaps one of the most disturbing discoveries was that a number of the horses were producing sand in their faeces, which gives a clear indication of how they were having to root around in the muck to try to get what nutrition out of the ground they could.'

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A statement from Paula Cooper, inspector for Norfolk Trading Standards, was read to the court, which described horses being 'visibly thin' and on 'bare, muddy paddocks' with no food or forage for them.

Alistair Taunton, mitigating for Page, said the teenager, who suffers from ADHD, was no longer working with animals. 'His dad always had an interest in horses and purchased some land from a scrap yard,' he said. 'The conditions became appalling.

'Word it would appear soon spread of his dad's good nature and people would bring horses and ask him to take them on. They did not say no, and tried to cope.

'He had no formal training whatsoever, and certainly no lessons in animal welfare or husbandry, and he took no payment for the work.'

Hand, representing himself, failed in a bid to vacate his guilty plea.

In mitigation he told the bench he had appealed in the local press for help in caring for the horses.

'I just didn't know what to do. I am just really sorry and I wanted to help, I just couldn't cope.'

Valerie Khambatta, chair of the bench, banned Hand from keeping horses or any cloven hoofed animal for life, calling the case 'prolonged neglect', and his two remaining horses will be removed.

Hand, of Carrside, Ridlington was also given a 15 weeks prison suspended for 12 months and made to pay a contribution to costs of £300 and a victim surcharge of £115.

Page, of Stalham, was also banned from keeping horses or cloven hoofed animals for 10 years, and fined £266 with a £30 victim surcharge.

Neglect to horses was 'unfathomable'

Following the sentencing, Redwings Horse Sanctuary's chief executive Lynn Cutress said: 'For this type of neglect to have occurred at a place that called itself a 'sanctuary' is unfathomable. Our attending veterinary surgeon and senior field officer said this was one of the worst cases they had seen and the difficult operation took over 12 hours to complete. 'For the twelve horses and ponies taken into our care at Redwings the road to recovery has been a difficult one, which only emphasises the extent of their previous neglect, but we're delighted that we were able to offer them that place of sanctuary they so rightly deserve.'

World Horse Welfare's field officer Jonathan Jackson said: 'What I will take away from this case is the memory of emaciated horses standing in pouring cold winter rain, at premises which were totally unsuitable for the care of equines. Not one of the animals objected to being loaded on to lorries and taken to a better life. It has been great to see each horse's transformation since being in the care of our team and I am delighted that six of them are now enjoying new lives in news homes, whilst the other two will be joining our rehoming scheme very soon.'

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