JOY FOR HORSE FROM AN EQUINE BELSEN; Jailed, the Cruel Breeders Who Starved Animals HOW MONTHS OF CARE TRANSFORMED CHARLIE THE RESCUED GELDING

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Byline: ANDREW LOUDON

A COUPLE who kept starving horses in wire mesh cages were jailed for six months yesterday.

Their smallholding was called 'an equine Belsen' by a former mounted police chief, who said he had never seen such horror.

One pony was already dead when rescuers were alerted. Others had not been fed for up to a month.

Horse breeders John and Sue Howard admitted causing unnecessary suffering to 15 horses and two sheep. They said they had run out of money and could not afford hay and supplements.

Magistrates at Northwich, Cheshire, imposed the maximum sentence and banned them for life from keeping horses and ponies. They must pay [pounds sterling]1,700 in fines and costs.

The Howards live in a caravan at the field in Antrobus, near Northwich, where the grim scenes were uncovered last April.

Paul Teasdale, former head of the Greater Manchester Police mounted section and now a field officer with the International League for the Protection of Horses, told the court: 'I'm pretty hard-bitten but that day I was deeply shocked. I could not understand what I was seeing.' Vet Alex Scott said Sue Howard, 42,

had the knowledge and ability to care for horses 'but for whatever reason she selectively starved a number for up to four weeks'.

He added: 'It was the selectivity of it that was so distressing. Some were caged with hardly room to move while stallions in another field roamed free with plenty of grazing.' Mrs Howard and her 48-year-old husband told the RSPCA that they used the cages to separate the sexes and 'control feeding'.

Magistrates watched a video showing how the caged horses had grazed their ground down to bare earth while outside was lush grass they could not reach.

The couple's barrister Anis Ali said: 'The problems arose through financial difficulties which they were trying to sort out. They realise the error of their ways and they apologise.' Lucy Wykeham of the ILPH said: 'You can't treat animals like this in a civilised country. …