Antrim farm animal cruelty case: stench of death overwhelming in a scene of horror
Horrified police officers and vets said the stench of death was almost overwhelming. Father and son Robert and Conor McAleenan were jailed for the appalling cruelty they inflicted on more than 60 horses and ponies at their Co Antrim farm.
Left to starve with no food or water, the stricken animals were packed in alongside rotting carcases of others.
Shockingly, the men claimed the animals had been intended to be shipped to England for slaughter and subsequent human consumption.
Their heinous crimes came to light after a member of the public contacted the authorities to report two dead donkeys in a field at the farm, between Antrim and Ballymena.
A prosecutor previously described the horrific scene of devastation that greeted police and a vet when they first went to the farm on November 22, 2011.
As they approached where the animals were kept, they could smell the stench of death.
"What confronted them in the farmyard and outbuildings was a scene of horror," Judge Des Marrinan told the pair as they stood in the dock together yesterday.
"Nine dead horses/ponies and two donkeys lying in a heap, the stench was overpowering.
"In a nearby shed were six live horses in one pen together with a dead horse lying against the wall. Again the stench of the dead animals was very strong." Three of the horses in the pen were in very poor condition with no food or water and all had shown signs of being subjected to unnecessary suffering and distress.
When the other stables were examined, none of the animals had any food or water. In another area, 15 horses and ponies were found in filthy conditions, packed together in the small building. Some had sores and ulcers, which had not been treated.
A vet brought in by police noted that "the welfare concerns I identified were profound and severe and the suffering inflicted on those animals was as severe as it is possible to encounter".
Many of the animals were deemed to be in shocking condition while some of the ponies had treatable respiratory disease and were infested by lice.
The vet said the McAleenans had fundamentally failed to protect the animals.
Some were in such poor condition they had to be put down humanely. Fifty-four were transported to an animal sanctuary in England.
When interviewed, Conor McAleenan claimed that the horses found dead had only died a couple of days before the arrival of police. This was rejected by investigators and the judge.
He said he was in the business of buying and selling animals for slaughter, and he had not wanted them treated with antibiotics because he did not want chemicals in the food chain.
His father, described as being in poor health, suffering from bowel cancer and angina, was never interviewed, although he admitted owning the farm.
Previously they had dealt with cattle and sheep, but some were stolen so he began to trade, not in a commercial way, in working horses and show horses. He said that around 2009 he moved to deal with the animals in a commercial manner, but soon found himself to be totally ill-equipped to do so as it was totally different to the earlier trading.
Both had been due to stand trial on 16 cruelty offences each, but in October both pleaded guilty to all charges.
The men covered their faces with scarves as they made their way into Coleraine courthouse yesterday. In the dock they showed little emotion as they were told they would be going to prison for their crimes.
The judge said of Conor McAleenan: "He is the owner of these animals although the responsibility for them was shared with his father. He explained his failure to medicate sick animals on the basis that this might mean he could not sell them onto the food chain. I am deeply unimpressed by that argument."
Conor McAleenan was deemed at high-risk of reoffending having shown little or no remorse.
Robert McAleenan, according to the judge, was "largely in denial regarding the proper treatment of the animals".