Animals still suffering on Britain’s ‘Farm from Hell’ – as owner facing jail had sentence postponed

A farmer who left hundreds of animals to die or suffer in a ‘total animal welfare disaster’ has been jailed for eight months.

Mark Downes, 50, kept pigs, cows, sheep and horses in ‘appalling conditions’ on his ramshackle ‘farm from hell,’ a court heard

RSPCA inspectors found pigs feasting on rotting carcasses and the bodies of dead animals in barns.

The found a sheep that had died of starvation after a post-mortem revealed zero levels of fat anywhere on its body.

A disembodied horse’s foot was found in a pig pen, whilst a horse’s skeleton was found with its leg trapped in some exposed barbed wire.

In a damning assessment at Bristol Magistrates Court, district judge Lyn Matthews said Downes’ cruelty and neglect was not deliberate, but that “he was inadequate to the task”.

Downes was convicted of a catalogue of 22 shocking offences of animal welfare, which included serious neglect of 40 horses on the farm which were left to run wild.

Downes, of Pilning, near Bristol, was jailed for a total of 32 weeks concurrently for all the charges.

He was also ordered to pay £1,000 in costs, and was banned from keeping farm animals – pigs, sheep, goats, horses and cattle – for life.

His convictions ranged from sample RSPCA charges relating to individual animals, to broad ones of widespread animal neglect or cruelty.

The court heard that Downes had agreed to take on care of Ingst Manor Farm, near Olveston, Bristol, which belongs to Sue Smith, 60 – in return for her allowing him to keep his horses there.

Judge Matthews said: “When the RSPCA arrived at Ingst Manor Farm in March 2015 they were greeted with a total animal welfare disaster.

“Animals were dead, dying and suffering. The farm itself was in a dire state. Immediately visible were two horses that were dead by the gate.

“There were 12 to 18 inches of slurry, concealing dangerous ironworks and the bodies of dead animals.

“Living cattle with no access to food and water were sharing a barn with dead cattle.

“One calf was stood by a dead cow and the impression that those there had was that was its mother.

“On the opposite side of the barn were a flock of sheep – some living, some dead and decaying. Pigs were eating the remains of other animals.

“The conditions were appalling. Clearly any system in place had failed, and judging by the degrees of decay of the dead bodies, this hadn’t been a recent incident.”

And she added: “Hazards weren’t fenced, and the dangers of that could be seen when inspectors found the skeleton of an equine seen with its leg trapped by barbed wire.”

District Judge Matthews has presided over the case that first began two years ago when the RSPCA first visited Ingst Manor Farm, and has spent more than 40 days in court in total.

She said the charges and offences and the state of every animal found on the farm over a period of years was too long to go into.

She imposed imposed eight week prison sentences for many of the charges he had been found guilty of, arranged into four different groups, to be served concurrently.

Smith, 60, who owns and lives at Ingst Manor Farm in Olveston, was convicted of 36 offences at a hearing earlier this month.

She faces a much longer prison sentence after the judge decided her sentencing powers weren’t great enough.

Judge Matthews said her powers of unlimited fines and to send Susan Smith to prison for up to a year would not be great enough, after sitting in a prosecution that has lasted almost two years.

Smith, 60, was convicted earlier this month of 36 different charges relating to the shocking scenes at Ingst Manor Farm over a number of years from 2014 to 2016.

She now faces additional charges relating to further neglect and appalling abuse dating from the autumn of 2017.

And the case is set to take even longer, as it has been adjourned until July 25 for sentencing.

The judge was told the total prosecution cost to the RSPCA and South Gloucestershire Council’s trading standards animal welfare team would be approaching £400,000.

Prosecuting, Hazel Stevens, said much of that cost had come as a result of Sue Smith’s refusal to accept an order to confiscate the survivors of that initial ‘disaster’.

The court was told the RSPCA also had to pay almost £30,000 in experts fees.

And South Gloucestershire Council’s total legal bill and amount paid to dispose of the dead animals amounted to more than £40,000.

The total across both organisations for everything connected with the case amounted to more than £384,000.


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