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Jail term cut for pair guilty of animal cruelty, but judge orders them to pay £46,000


Martha Toal

Martha Toal

Michael Ferris

Michael Ferris

Martha Toal

An Armagh couple who admitted a catalogue of animal cruelty offences have been jailed for two months and ordered to pay £46,000 in costs.

Last November, 50-year-old Martha Toal and Michael Ferris (60) were each handed five-month terms for what a judge described as one of the worst cruelty cases he had ever come across.

However, they appealed that sentence yesterday, when Judge Melody McReynolds reduced their tariffs to two months in immediate custody and upheld their lifetime ban on keeping animals.

Before the couple were led away to begin their sentences, Judge McReynolds warned them the ban included every animal "down to a goldfish".

In addition, the Armagh County Court judge also ordered the pair to hand over a total of £46,000 to the authorities, after she heard they had refused to allow two statutory bodies to sell the seized animals despite them being told that if they agreed, costs of the animals being fed, housed and cared for would be dropped.

At an earlier hearing, Toal, from School House Close, Glenanne, was convicted of 12 charges. Ferris, whose farm on Shillinghill Road, Mowhan in Armagh was where the investigation centred, was convicted of nine charges.

Among the charges, both were guilty of failing to dispose of equine carcasses, causing unnecessary suffering, failing to provide a wholesome diet, and failing to comply with welfare improvement notices.

They also pleaded guilty to causing unnecessary suffering to seven horses and a foal.

During an earlier contest of some of the charges, the court heard how DAERA inspectors received an anonymous tip-off about the condition of the animals on the farm in January 2015, conducting their first inspection within days on January 22.

They discovered two horse carcasses that had been lying for so long they were beginning to liquefy, the court heard.

Served with an improvement notice, inspectors gave advice to Ferris and Toal about caring for animals and what improvements were necessary, promising to return for further inspections.

But when they returned to the farm on three occasions last year, they discovered:

• No animal feed on the farm whatsoever;

• Bags of unidentified animal bones;

• A horse with faeces all over its teeth and gums, so starved it was trying to eat manure;

• Water tubs in the field were empty of water but did contain broken glass and barbed wire, and;

• A field where livestock were kept was so lacking in grass or edible vegetation, the animals had stripped bark from all the trees they could reach.

Belfast Telegraph