Douglas John Williamson

Published on 16/07/2014

Brothers who admitted ill-treatment of their horses have been slapped with 16-month jail terms and a five-year ban on owning horses by Christchurch District Court Judge Jane Farish.

The brothers were jailed for the neglect of the animals they had at a 6ha property in Quaifes Road, Halswell, in 2010.

John Blackwood Williamson, 48, and Douglas John Williamson, both self-employed, of Opawa, pleaded guilty at the end of the prosecution case in their Christchurch District Court trial a year ago.

They admitted one charge of ill-treatment of a horse, wilful ill-treatment of six horses, and five charges of failing to meet the behavioural and physical needs of horses.

Inspectors found 27 horses on their property. It was seen as being over-stocked, with horses in poor condition on a series of visits even after advice from veterinarians. By the time of the later visits, the number of horses had been increased to 34. Six had to be euthanised.

The SPCA which brought the original prosecution has spent $93,000 on veterinary care, and feed, board, and transport for the rescued horses, and the brothers were ordered to pay only $7000 of that figure back as reparations.

The brothers said in their pre-sentence reports that they thought it was outrageous that they should be ordered to pay anything for the cost of the prosecution, because they had been deprived of their horses.

Judge Farish said the evidence at the trial a year ago had been disturbing and distressing at times. It was evident from the video that the horses had been woefully neglected. One horse, Danny B,  pictured, had been locked in a stall and basically forgotten about.

Judge Farish noted that the pair had later tried to vacate their guilty pleas, after pleading guilty at trial. That bid had been heard and ruled out by a different judge.

She said the Williamsons had not accepted responsibility, and had been “arrogant” by failing to take positive steps even after being given advice by professionals.

She said the problem had been caused by poor nutrition, a poor worming regime, and the manner in which the horses were held. One of the horses had been held in a shed and was covered in urine and faeces, and the animal was emaciated, with sores, swollen limbs, and little water.

Defence counsel Tim Fournier said the brothers had not come to grips with issues that were confronting some of the horses in the herd. Some of the horses were doing well, or recovering, and some were failing in a dramatic way. There was still a dispute about the reason for the decline, and the brothers were still convinced there had been an issue with the water.

He said the worms infecting the horses could have prevented the horses benefitting from the feed they were being given. The brothers accepted they did not get onto the horses’ poor condition quickly enough.

They both expressed disappointment in themselves for failing their horses. They had had a lifetime of involvement in horses, and they were remorseful. When they read reports about the condition of some of the horses they were appalled.

Crown prosecutor Brent Vanderkolk said nothing had occurred to show any genuine sense of responsibility by the brothers for the harm they had caused. He said the response of the jury to the evidence it saw had been tangible and palpable.

When SPCA officials checked the horses, they found animals that were in rapid decline. The Williamsons could not claim ignorance of the situation or the means to rectify it. Their “wilful blindness” had caused unnecessary and unreasonable distress and suffering to the horses. They had ignored veterinary advice.