AN award-winning Chester farmer has been jailed after presiding over what was described by the judge as a “concentration camp for animals”.
James Gordon Knight Stratton, 49, of Bruera, was jailed for one year, banned from having animals in his charge for 10 years and fined £20,000 after he left his cattle to suffer in “appalling conditions” at Cold Harbour Farm in Hatton Heath.
The carcasses of 33 cattle were found rotting among live, emaciated cattle by Animal Health and Welfare officers from Cheshire West and Chester Council during a raid on the farm on February 12 last year.
Stratton had pleaded guilty to 20 separate offences, which occurred between late 2012 and February 2013, relating to animal neglect and breaches of Animal By-Product Regulations during a hearing a West Cheshire Magistrates Court, Chester in October 2013.
Described as a “successful” and “well-respected” farmer in the Chester community, Stratton, who was sentenced at Warrington Crown Court on Friday, had been on a skiing holiday when the raid took place, with a former employee, Darren MacKay, who had been asked to tend to the animals during his absence, alerting the authorities after being “disgusted” at the scenes.
Prosecuting, Matthew Corbett-Jones, said: “The charges which this defendant has pleaded guilty reflect the appalling and inhumane conditions in which cattle belonging to him were kept at Cold Harbour Farm.
“On February 13, Ms Natalie Harrop, an Animal Health Officer employed by CWaC, responded to complaints regarding the farm. She was met with an horrendous scene in which the remains of 33 dead cattle were found decomposing in and amongst live cattle who were themselves clearly in poor health and living in terrible conditions.
“An inspection of the farm revealed that, in some areas, livestock were living in slurry which was up to several feet thick.
“Ms Harrop saw that there were two large cattle carcasses lying amongst the live cattle. There was an empty feeder ring with a live animal stuck inside it. A further animal was stuck between the ring feeder and the feed rail, having been blocked in by an animal carcass.
“There was a complete absence of any bedding or feed available for the animals and the water supply was unclean and largely consisted of water that had dripped from a hole in the roof.
“Mr MacKay (who had worked in Stratton’s butchers shop at his home at Churton Heath Farm) was explained that on February 10, 2013, he received a text from Stratton asking him to look after the cattle at Cold Harbour while he was away on holiday.
“Mr MacKay went along with this but when he went to feed the animals he was disgusted at the state of the farm. He described himself as being gutted and said that there was no food available to the animals. He described the live cattle as looking miserable and empty.”
Defending Stratton, Simon Parry said that his client had struggled to look after the cross-breed cattle, describing them as being “wild”, but was “too proud” to ask for help and report that he had been having difficulties, due to him being a respected member of the farming community who had been a farmer all his life.
Mr Parry said: “He (Stratton) his ashamed of this whole episode and accepts that he could have done a lot better and sought help.
“Jame Stratton was struggling personally at the time. The stresses and strains that come with farming were getting on top of him. He would bottle it up and let it get to him. He knows that the first thing he should have done was to seek help.
“This is a man who has spent a lifetime in the farming industry, been to agricultural college, who cares about animal husbandry. There is a close knit farming community in that part of Chester, of which Mr Stratton is a part. This was an isolated incident in an otherwise exemplary career.”
The court heard how Stratton surrendered the 37 live cattle which were in his care following the raid, with an investigation revealing that those cattle only nine were registered with the British Cattle Movement Service (BCMS). Of those nine animals, only four had the required animal passports and three had discrepancies as to the breed, resulting in only one of the 37 being viable.
Several of the cattle that were handed over to the council to be placed elsewhere were in such poor health that they had to be humanely destroyed.
Mr Parry told the court that meat from the cattle which had not been registered had never been sold for human consumption, and that this was a case insolation.
The court also heard how the excercise to remove the animals, vetinary costs, and placing the animals elsewhere, cost the taxpayer a total of £46,168.
Jailing Stratton, Judge Roger Dutton said: “You are a disgrace to the farming community. This was a concentration camp for animals.
“It may be that you weren’t able to cope but you had plenty of opportunities to put this right but you failed to do so. The scenes at Cold Harbour Farm were more akin to what one would have seen after the war.
“While this was unfolding you were on a skiing holiday. This represents a sense of your appalling priorities in life.
“The court takes a strong view on these matters. You have let yourself, your family and the farming community down. There is a special sense of trust among farmers and you have failed them.
“Your farm was called Cold Harbour Farm. How apt that named turned out to be.”