AN ANIMAL welfare charity’s inspector has told a court a case of alleged animal neglect near Helensburgh was “towards one of the worst” she has seen.

Scottish SPCA inspector Jennifer Connolly was giving evidence at the trial of a Burgh resident accused of mistreating five horses he kept in a field at Blairvadach in Shandon.

The trial of Perparim Tahiraj heard that the 49-year-old, of Williamson Drive, had called the charity on Christmas Eve 2018 to tell them he was no longer looking after the five horses – Al, Africa, Cinderella, Song, and Tia.

The trial, at Dumbarton Sheriff Court, was told that, after Scottish SPCA inspectors carried out an examination of the animals to check whether they were fit to be transported, one of the horses was found to be pregnant.

Sheriff John Hamilton asked Ms Connolly to give a “best or worst” assessment of the alleged neglect, based on her 12 years working with the animal charity.

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Ms Connolly said: “This was bad, mainly because of the amount of advice he had been given previously. It was towards one of the worst I’ve seen.”

Mr Tahiraj denies two charges under the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006.

Prosecutors allege that he caused three of the animals unnecessary suffering by failing to obtain advice and treatment for Al, Africa and Cinderella, all of whom were alleged to be suffering from poor body condition, skin infections and weight loss.

The Crown also claims Mr Tahiraj exposed all five horses to “inappropriate surfaces, thorns, wire, and failed to provide adequate shelter, a secure enclosure, adequate nutrition and adequate grass”.

In evidence, Ms Connolly said she made two visits to see the horses in the space of a month – the first on December 3, 2018, in response to concerns raised by members of the public about the horses’ welfare, and the second on December 27.

She told the court the second visit was carried out, with a vet, after Mr Tahiraj called the Scottish SPCA on December 24 to say that “he would no longer be attending to his horses”.

On the second day of the trial, on January 23, fiscal depute Sean Maher asked Ms Connolly to describe a series of photographs she had taken of the horses on the December 27 visit.

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Ms Connolly began with the picture of Al, describing how “you can see the outline of the horse’s ribs” and the “general poor condition” of the animal, something which she said could be the result of “lack of feeding”.

The photograph of Africa, she said, showed the horse’s hip bones, back and ribs were all visible, while Ms Connolly described a skin infection on Cinderella where the horse had been wearing a rug, with “dry and flaking” skin visible from where the rug had been removed.

She added: “I would presume that has been caused by the fact it’s had this rug on quite consistently – it could have been damp or could not have been changed often enough, or not taken off to allow the air to circulate.”

Ms Connolly confirmed that a skin infection would need the attention of a vet, but said there was no evidence of Cinderella having received veterinary treatment – thought she did describe a cream, “something like Sudocrem”, visible on the horse’s spine.

Asked by Mr Maher whether that was adequate treatment for a skin infection, Ms Connolly said: “The condition of the horse suggests it’s not.”

Ms Connolly said Song was “not in a particularly great condition, but wasn’t as bad as the previous three”.

Tia, she said, was also in a “slightly better condition” than Al, Africa and Cinderella.

But she added: “This was the horse that was in foal. You wouldn’t want to provide inadequate feeding for her, because she’s growing a foal.”

The other pictures described by Ms Connolly showed the condition of the field itself and the measures taken to ensure the horses could not escape – which, she said, included “inadequate” fencing, and rhododendron bushes which could be toxic to horses if eaten.

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Ms Connolly told the court: “The ground is basically just muck. There’s no grazing, and no evidence of supplementary feeding – there’s basically nothing there for the horses to eat.”

Ms Connolly also said she had seen no evidence of shelter for the animals – either natural, in the form of an adequate line of trees, or artificial, in the form of a built shelter.

The trial was told the horses had been taken away to the Scottish SPCA’s centres in Aberdeen and Balerno following the December 27 visit.

Cross-examining Ms Connolly, Mr Tahiraj, who is defending himself, asked her if she and her colleagues were not “desperate to find something wrong, because the media was writing and you were pushed to do something”.

Ms Connolly denied this was the case and said: “Every single time I visited you and your horses, I was having to advise you of something.

“I was never out at your horses and didn’t find a problem.

“We would not bow to public pressure; we were getting numerous phone calls, but we would only ever remove an animal if we had grounds to do so.”

Mr Tahiraj pointed to plastic sheeting visible in one of the photos, and suggested that this could have contained hay, supplied to the horses between the two visits.

Ms Connolly replied: “It could have, but the condition of the horses on the 27th would suggest they weren’t getting enough supplementary feeding.”

The trial was adjourned until next month.

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