Six months for cruel farmer

A SICKENING video nasty of rotting carcasses and starving sheep showed the scene of one of Suffolk's worst ever animal cruelty cases.Dead sheep strewn across the former RAF Bentwaters Airbase and animals too weak to stand were some of the shocking scenes shown to South East Suffolk Magistrates.

A SICKENING video nasty of rotting carcasses and starving sheep showed the scene of one of Suffolk's worst ever animal cruelty cases.

Dead sheep strewn across the former RAF Bentwaters Airbase and animals too weak to stand were some of the shocking scenes shown to South East Suffolk Magistrates.

Farmer Edward Howard was jailed for six months but bailed pending appeal at Ipswich Crown Court after a three-hour hearing.

Howard, 52, of Churnwood Road, Colchester, was also banned from keeping agricultural livestock for ten years.

After the sentencing, Roger Hopkins, assistant trading standards officer told The Star: "Six months imprisonment reflected the seriousness of the offence – it was the maximum sentence.

"The neglect and suffering of these animals was the worst we have ever seen in Suffolk."

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At an earlier hearing Howard admitted 15 charges of failing to care for his flock and a further three of failing to dispose of carcasses.

Prosecutor Daniel Fugallo, told the court when trading standards officers and vets visited the site last year they found sheep left without adequate shelter, water or food.

They also found rotting carcasses which Howard should have disposed of.

James Dixon, mitigating, said the sheep under Howard's care had been transported from farms around the country – part of standard farming practice.

Howard was overwhelmed by the huge number of sheep transported to the airbase.

"Howard has always been unwilling to accept entire responsibility," he said.

On sentencing bench chairman Mike Hilton said: "The aggravating features were that you had sole responsibility of the animals. They weren't yours. You were keeping them for other people.

"The prolonged neglect – as some of the animals died.

"You caused serious injury, suffering and death to these animals – a large number of them."

Howard, now a lorry driver, declined to comment after the case.

After the verdict, Suffolk county trading standards officer Steve Greenfield said: "This is the worst case of neglect we have ever seen in Suffolk. The sights which greeted them, shocked trading standards officers who had seen a lot of cruelty cases in their profession.

"They came away pale faced, and shocked at the extent of suffering and cruelty and the fact it was all so totally unnecessary. That's what really disturbed them more than anything.

"One man's neglect, as a video we took at the scene shows, resulted in the unspeakable suffering of many animals. Sheep were sitting down and dying because they had not been fed."

He said officers had liaised with contacts in New Zealand as they tracked Howard round the world, to bring him before a court.

He said: "We are not going to give up on this sort of case.

"Mr Howard deserves the sentence. The message to farmers is that whatever the circumstances, you do not treat animals this way."

A SHEPHERD's role is to guard his sheep and watch over his flock – but

Edward Howard was not even in the county while they starved to death.

He had held a licence to graze his 500 sheep in fenced-off land at RAF Bentwaters, for about three years.

He loved sheep dogs and sheep dog training, and was a member of the local sheep dog trials association and lived for competitions - winning many trophies.

But his love of animals and prizewinning ways stopped short when it came to his flock.

Many farmers send sheep south for wintering, and in the later part of the year 2000, 1,600 sheep were sent down from Yorkshire.

About 1,200 went to Bentwaters in December 2000 and January 2001, where Howard already had 400 from Leicestershire.

They enjoyed the full run of the massive four to five square miles site, although Howard was supposed to keep 500 in cordoned off area.

There had already been complaints about sheep dying and Howard not burying them, so an official from the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries went to see him.

At this point, Howard had 1,200 sheep, but MAFF found every scrap of grass there had been eaten, and the sheep had been provided with no food.

He was feeding them the odd bit of food, but he'd promised the sheep owners in the north their animals would have really good pastures and protein. He was beleived to earn about 40p to 45p per sheep per week for looking after them, and half the money was paid to him up front for the wintering fees.

By February, lots of people had reported their concerns about the pregnant ewes they spotted suffering in the field. Fifty were found to be dead when the authorities visited.

One was staggering on its last legs, and had to be put down by a vet. An autopsy revealed it was malnourished. It also had a disease where the lamb takes all the goodness from the sheep.

The poor sheep had no body fat and had even absorbed its own muscle and fat from bone marrow in a bid to stay alive.

Its body had no reserves left, but the stomach was crawling with worms.

MAFF issued Howard with a seven-day notice to improve conditions, but after that time there was no change.

Trading standards went out to the site with MAFF, rounded up all sheep and checked them, scoring their condition.

Another 30 had to be put down.

At this point, Howard was kicked off the site by the owners and trading standards took responsibility for the sheep on March 7 and brought a new shepherd in.

Another 28 had to be put down on the same day as Foot and Mouth took hold.

It was discovered, by tracing their ear tags, that they belonged to a Yorkshire farmer, who wanted them home, but movement was then banned to stop Foot and Mouth sweeping the country.

Trading standards cared for the sheep, and had some treated.

Another 22 more were put down -bringing the total put down to 52. About another 50 died of sheep scabies, or getting caught in razor wire left in a forest they roamed in. One was found to have crawled into a tree and died.

About the time that Trading Standards took over, sheep started to lamb. Many died in the process. The sheep could not even lift their heads, and had bones sticking out and spines protruding.

Of the 18 charges , one related to not complying with MAFF order, nine to specific sheep, and four to general care, food, water, shelter.

One of vets involved in the case, said it was the worst thing he'd seen in 38 years.

When the condition of the sheep was scored on a scale of 0 to 5 (3.5 being a good score), 177 sheep were graded. 150 scored one or less - they were all beyond recovery or on point of death.

The farmers who owned the sheep lost out, during a time of crisis in the industry. One man in Leicester lost 200 of his 300 sheep.

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