Glenavy farmer James Steele who kept animals living in barbaric conditions spared prison term
Sickening scenes of animal neglect that saw living and dead cows housed together have led to a Co Antrim farmer being given a suspended jail sentence and banned from keeping animals for five years.
James Steele (46) of Gobrana Road in Glenavy had been the subject of the biggest-ever seizures of herd cattle in Northern Ireland.
He'd already been banned from keeping animals for life in an earlier case of neglect of a number of donkeys.
At one point he operated a successful farming operation worth more than £1m, but when his business imploded after a divorce, the animals were left in barbaric conditions.
In Antrim Crown Court yesterday Mr Steele was convicted of six offences of causing unnecessary suffering to bovine animals, two charges of failure to dispose of animal carcases, one charge of failure to comply with an animal by-product requirement and one charge of using an ear tag supposed to be for another animal.
The conviction follows numerous inspections of Mr Steele's farm by DARD veterinary staff over a six-week period in April and May 2015.
Inspectors took video and picture evidence that showed dead and dying cattle in the same areas, with a number having to be put down.
Some were found injured from calving but had received no veterinary care, while others had no access to food or water.
In court, Mr Steele's solicitor said that the cattle farmer's wife had been "the glue that held the farm business together" and after the marraige ended he was no longer able to cope.
It has been described as a "horrendous welfare case" by DARD's head of veterinary enforcement Danny Gray.
He said: "There were animals who had died out in the fields trying to give birth and they hadn't been given veterinary attention, there were other animals lying dead in sheds, they had no access to feed. There were other living animals in the sheds, stepping over the top of the animals that were lying in the mud."
In January, 153 animals were seized from Mr Steele's farm as the result of a separate animal cruelty case.
At the time, 18 of the animals were in such terrible condition they had to be put down.
Mr Steele's sentence of five months imprisonment suspended for three years for the animal welfare and by-product charges, and two months suspended for three years for the cattle ear tag charge are to run concurrently.
In February the Belfast Telegraph reported that Mr Steele was found guilty of two charges under the Welfare of Animals Act (NI) 2011 relating to the neglect of six donkeys.
In June 2015 animal welfare officers from Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council said they found 11 donkeys with severely overgrown hooves, making it difficult for them to walk.
The animals were kept in fields in the Stoneyford area of Co Antrim.
Nine of the animals had to be put to sleep with the surviving two - named Tinsel and Jingles - taken in by a donkey sanctuary in Co Cork.
Mr Steele pleaded guilty to the offences and was ordered to pay costs of £1,059.98 and £166.
In addition to the fines, Mr Steele received a lifetime ban from owning animals, from keeping animals, from participating in the keeping of animals and from being party to an arrangement under which that person is entitled to control or influence the way in which the animals are kept.
Since coming to The Donkey Sanctuary, Tinsel and Jingles have undergone several veterinary treatments to address their neglected condition.
At the time Jane Bruce from the Donkey Sanctuary said: "This is a very sad case but we are very pleased that these lovely donkeys are now safe in our care."