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Sunday, January 30, 2011

MIKE HALLOWELL: Geordie horse-ripping (Naomi do not read)

Some animal-related unpleasantness to report from Geordieland, I'm afraid.

Bill Quay is a pleasant little community just north of Hebburn and just south of Wardley, the nearest large town being Gateshead. Driving through Bill Quay, one of the pleasing sights to greet one's eyes is that of horses ambling in fields; a touch of rurality in an area renowned for its industry.

But then Sunday came along and things changed.

Mark Taylor and Lawrence March owned three horses between them. Lawrence was the proud owner of two gypsy cobs; Mark, a seven month-old foal named Jacko. All three had the run of a field just off Wardley Lane. On Sunday morning the men went to the adjacent stables to visit the horses and were devastated at what they found. The two cobs had been attacked, their manes and tails cut off.

Superficially, the incident seemed to be a simple case of animal cruelty: some wack-job attacks horses; end of story. But it's actually a little more complicated than that. The police believe that the horses must have been chased before being assaulted, which tends to mitigate against the idea that this was simply a random act of violence carried out on the spur of the moment. Whoever did this was determined and went about their vile business at some considerable risk. Not only is the field near a busy road, but it is also only yards away from Hebburn Fire Station. (1)

The incident caused a furore in the neighbourhood, naturally. But things were to take on an even more sinister hue. Taylor and March discovered the plight of the two horses on Sunday morning. The following day they went to check on the horses again, only to find that Mark Taylor's foal, Jacko, had been killed. The perpetrators had struck on two successive nights and managed to carry out the attacks without being seen or heard on either.

The way in which the foal was dispatched was sickening. Its neck had been twisted 180° - “like the girl on the Exorcist”, said Taylor (2) – and the two men were left wondering what on earth had made their horses the target off such wanton cruelty.

There is, as far as I can see, nothing that explicitly points to this being anything other than the actions of a twisted personality with a hatred of horses; or perhaps I should say personalities, in the plural, as it is unlikely that one individual could have been responsible for the first attack involving two gypsy cobs.

But you never can tell. Animal mutilation, but not of the extraterrestrial kind. The work of cultists? Or just sick bastards? Hopefully they'll be arrested, and then we'll find out.

1) The Shields Gazette, Thursday, January 6, 2011.
2) The Evening Chronicle, Thursday, January 6, 2011.


Richard Freeman said...

What puzzlesme about case like this is why do we never find anyone lieing in the field having being kicked to death?
Horses are large, powerfull animals. Why don't they kick, bite and trample their assailents?
Also to twist a foal's head around like that requires emmense strength. It would probobly need several people working together.
There is some factor in these cases we are missing. Jon, Graham and i investigated such a case a few years back. There has never been a satisfactory explanation to these cases.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Richard on this one; if the field is where I think it is the Google Earth view adequately demonstrates that it is a big field and cornering a horse in it would be difficult, to say the least.

The article mentions that the police view is that the horses must have been chased; this is extremely unlikely as anyone who has ever actually tried to catch a horse in a field when it didn't want to be caught can attest. The only foolproof way to catch such an animal is to walk into the field quietly and slowly with a head-collar in your hand.

Knowing what's coming, the horse will then scarper, turn round and watch you. Now, the first rule here is that as horses don't like big things with forward-pointing eyes staring at them; predators do that and horses evolved not to get eaten. People also have exceptionally "starey" eyes as far as a horse is concerned, so the golden rule is DON'T LOOK AT THE HORSE.

Pull your hat down over your eyes, and walk slowly after the horse. It'll just run away again, and again, and again but eventually it'll get sick of the process and let you catch it. The key point here is that the process is eventual; if the horse really doesn't want to know, you've got over an hour of trudging after it before you'll succeed, and I honestly don't think some criminal is going to have the nerve to tramp after a horse for half the night without getting extremely nervous. Getting nervous near a horse ain't a good idea; horses pick up on that very easily and then they get nervous too, and you're never going to catch a nervous horse in a paddock at night.

No, these horses were approached earlier by the offenders. The only way to bring the time needed to catch a horse down is to train the horse that you're friendly, by repeatedly turning up and feeding it something nice.

So, these horse attackers absolutely must be locals, must be knowledgeable horsemen, must be very strong young men to do what they did to that poor foal and there has to be more than one person at this. Moreover I think that these characters must've been visiting that place for nights on end, getting the horses used to them and probably even catching them, petting them and putting head-collars on, then giving the horses a treat of some sort before letting them go again. Habituating them to the idea that some rogue turning up in the middle of the night is friendly. A way to check would be to turn up yourself at night at the paddock (preferably in the company of a policeman, given what's occurred there) and see if the horses still think that nocturnal visitors are nice enough to come over to.

So, check the fire station CCTV. Check all other CCTV for people who repeatedly pass at about the same time in the night in the time leading up to the offence. Look for any camps of travellers that appeared a few weeks before the attacks, then left soon after, and look for mysterious tatty old diesel vans seen in the area about that time; this offence absolutely could not have been committed by a single stranger turning up out of the blue one dark night then vanishing. There absolutely HAS to have been a good deal of lead-up to this actual offence for the horses to be caught so easily. The criminals involved will also have history; pretty much all offenders start off small and work up, so these morons are certain to have come to the attention of the police for torturing small animals like cats and the like; the odds are the police know them, but for other offences.