Council warning after animal cruelty case

Some of the neglected horses.
Some of the neglected horses.

Armagh, Banbridge and Craigaon Council has warned it will rigorously enforce animal welfare laws after a horrific case was heard in court this week.

Martha Toal (50) of School House Close, Glenanne, Co Armagh and her partner Michael Ferris (60) of Shillinghill Road, Lisnagat, Armagh had both pleaded guilty at a Court hearing in September 2016 to causing unnecessary suffering and to failing to take such steps to ensure the needs of horses, ponies and a donkey in their care were met.

Neglected horses

Neglected horses

The couple appealed the sentence imposed by the Magistrates Court in October 2016 and their appeal was heard in Armagh Crown Court on 27th February by Her Honour Judge McReynolds.

On hearing the appeal Judge McReynolds reduced the previous custodial sentence imposed from five months to two months, confirmed the lifetime ban from keeping all animals for both Toal and Ferris and increased the costs awarded to the Council from £500 each from Toal and Ferris to £18,000 each.

The Judge reiterated that the lifetime ban imposed related to all types of animals including goldfish.

She went on to comment that this was an appalling and very disquieting case.

This case arose from an animal welfare complaint received by Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council.

On investigation of the complaint Animal Welfare Officers found horses and ponies and one donkey at premises and on land at Shillinghill Road.

Eight equines were taken into possession by the Council as they were certified by a veterinary surgeon as suffering due to starvation and neglect.

Of these eight, three did not survive.

Two dead ponies were also found on the premises.

Council Head of Environmental Health, welcomed the Court’s ruling and commented, “The mistreatment of animals in our society is not acceptable.

“This was a particularly difficult case and I commend the Animal Welfare Officers involved on their tenacity in bringing this case to Court.

“The Council welcomes the Court’s decision to recognise the significant costs associated with a case such as this.

“We hope that this case demonstrates that Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council continues to adhere to a rigorous enforcement policy to ensure full compliance of the legislation.

“Our officers worked closely with DAERA to secure convictions under the provisions of the Welfare of Animals (NI) Act for both farmed and non-farmed animals.

“I would urge the public to be vigilant and report any suspected cases of mistreatment or cruelty to domestic animals and equines to our Animal Welfare team on 028 3751 5800 or email

“Complaints are investigated thoroughly and where necessary formal action is taken, which may include the issuing of Improvement Notices or, where appropriate, the seizure of animals and prosecution.”