6th Dec, 2016

'Incompetent' farmer manages to save livelihood

Stratford Editorial 7th Mar, 2016 Updated: 28th Oct, 2016

A FARMER has saved his livelihood having been given six months to prove he could manage the farm competently – after inspectors had found livestock being kept in appalling conditions.

It had been said the suffering caused to farmer David Letherbarrow’s animals in 2013 was not wilful or malicious, but he was ‘simply incompetent’ at the time.

The 51 year-old of Springfield Farm, Banbury Road, Oxhill, had been given a 24-week suspended prison sentence after pleading guilty to eight animal welfare offences and six breaches of various regulations.

But the magistrates had also disqualified him from owning or keeping animals for five years – and it was against that which he launched an appeal at Warwick Crown Court.

It was heard in September when Judge Sylvia de Bertodano, sitting with two magistrates, gave him six months to show he could run the farm as it should be run.

The judge indicated: “If it is all in order six months from now, then we will not take away his livelihood.”

And at the resumed hearing prosecutor Kevin Saunders said animal welfare inspectors had formed the view the farm was now in a satisfactory state.

So Judge de Bertodano said the appeal against the disqualification from keeping animals would be allowed.

During the original hearing his barrister Sam Skinner had said the ban would take his livelihood from him and prevent him running the farm which had been in his family for generations.

Mr Saunders, prosecuting for Warwickshire County Council, said the case began with visits to Springfield Farm by trading standards officers in November 2012 and February 2013.

“He was given advice regarding the welfare of livestock.  An aggravating feature is a sheer inability to respond.

“But the suffering that was caused to his livestock it is not submitted was wilful or malicious.  The consideration is that he is simply incompetent.”

The offences related to a failure to register the deaths of bovines; cattle up to their hocks in muck; and a failure to provide a lying area with well-maintained dry bedding.

His barrister Sam Skinner said the 120 owned acres of the farm, which had a further 200 acres of rented fields, had been farmed by the family for generations and had been run properly by Letherbarrow’s father, with him as ‘a perfectly competent number two.’

But Letherbarrow, who had known nothing but his parents and the farm for all his working life, was badly affected by his mother’s death in 2008, particularly because his farm duties had prevented him visiting her in hospital on the day before she died.

Then his father suffered a stroke in 2013 and had to spend many weeks in hospital, around the time of the offences.

“At that time he had mentally switched off – and in farming, if you switch off, things go bad very quickly.”

Mr Skinner pointed out there had been no repeat of the offences, and Letherbarrow, whose father was now at home but in a wheelchair, had drastically reduced the number of animals to enable him to cope better with running the farm alone.