Northern Ireland fox hunter shot Shetland pony dead thinking it was a fox
A hunter who shot dead a 10-year-old girl's "beautiful" pet Shetland pony - claiming he had mistaken it for a fox - has been ordered to do 120 hours of unpaid work and pay £500 compensation to the owners.
Samuel McLean of Greenville Avenue, Ballymoney, Co Antrim, was sentenced at Coleraine Magistrates Court after pleading guilty to a charge of criminal damage at an earlier hearing.
The court heard the 30-year-old was 'lamping' for foxes in the Castleroe area near Coleraine last August when the fatal shot was fired.
He told police he'd shot at what he believed was a fox, lost sight of the animal, then fired again when it reappeared.
It was the second shot that resulted in the death of Maisie the pony.
A defence lawyer said the fact the animal was an 18-month-old foal may have explained how his client made the mistake.
He added that it was also standing in a "dip in the hill".
The lawyer said when McLean realised what had happened, he immediately began knocking on doors to try and establish who the pony's owners were. He added: "There never would have been any prospect of a ballistics trace on his rifle. He could have fled and he could have evaded responsibility."
It emerged during the hearing that McLean, a keen huntsman, was likely to lose his firearms licence.
District Judge Peter King said: "Those who enjoy shooting and hunting as a sport are perfectly entitled to do so. However, with that sport comes significant obligations.
"Unfortunately, you have failed to handle your firearm in a responsible manor."
Sentencing him to 120 hours community service, the judge added: "If you can't handle firearms responsibly there are consequences."
Judge King ordered McLean to pay the owners of the Shetland Pony £500 compensation.
In 2017 mum-of-six Rhonda Burns (49) had written on social media about how her family had been left traumatised after Maisie was shot.
"Two days of the worst trauma any child could ever suffer - no 10-year-old should ever have to see her beautiful pet pony brutally shot by accident and left for dead 30 yards from her front door," she wrote.
"Our family are devastated."
Referring to Maisie, she added: "Sleep tight little princess".
Rhonda told the Belfast Telegraph at the time her children were horrified to discover Maisie, who had been turned out into a field with her mother Bluebell, lying blood-soaked and lifeless on a Sunday morning.
Bluebell was shaking in distress and trying to nudge Maisie.
She was covered in Maisie's blood and was frantically trying to get her to respond, said Rhonda at the time.