Northern Ireland

Glenavy farmer given suspended sentence for 'horrendous' animal cruelty case

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Media captionThe judge said he was "shocked" by the condition of some animals on the farm, as agriculture correspondent Conor Macauley reports

A farmer, who was the subject of the biggest ever herd seizure in Northern Ireland, has been given a suspended sentence for animal cruelty.

James Steele, 46, of Gobrana Road, Glenavy, County Antrim heard a judge say he was "shocked" by the state of animals on his farm.

Steele had pleaded guilty to six counts of causing unnecessary suffering to livestock on his land last spring.

Image caption James Steele had pleaded guilty to six counts of causing unnecessary suffering to livestock

He received a five-month prison sentence, suspended for three years.

Steele was also banned from keeping animals for five years.

The court had heard that inspectors found dead and dying cattle on his farm.

Image caption Officials from the Department of Agriculture seized 153 animals from Steele's farm in January

Some of the sick ones had to be put down.

Steele's solicitor told the court that his ability to cope on the farm had been compromised after the breakdown of his marriage.

His wife "had been the glue that held the farm business together", he said.

Image caption The court heard that officials found that some cows had been injured but had not been given veterinary help

The court was told he had gone from owning a herd of hundreds of cattle, and assets worth £1m to £2m, to a man who had virtually nothing.

Officials from the Department of Agriculture seized 153 animals from Steele's farm in January, after a conviction in a separate cruelty case.

Vets had to put down 18 of the animals.

Image caption The court heard that some of the animals found had not had feed or water for days

The court heard that when inspectors went to the farm between April and June 2015, they found dead animals in sheds with live ones.

They also found animals that had been injured during calving and given no veterinary help, while others had no access to water.

Danny Gray, the Department of Agriculture's head of veterinary enforcement, said it had been a "horrendous welfare case".

Image caption Danny Gray from the agriculture department said it was a 'horrendous welfare case'

"There were animals that hadn't had feed or water for days, possibly weeks.

"There were animals who had died out in the field trying to give birth and hadn't been given veterinary attention.

"There were other animals lying dead in sheds which had no access to feed, there were other animals in the sheds stepping out over the top of the animals that were lying in the mud."

Mr Gray said welfare conditions on most farms were very good, but on occasion they had to step in to seize animals as had been done in this case.

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