Riding school in welfare row

PUBLISHED: 11:34 19 January 2006 | UPDATED: 11:27 04 May 2010

RIDING school owners Laura and Philip Sullivan were left facing bankruptcy when a dispute with council chiefs over paperwork almost cost them their business. But although they have agreed a compromise with the council, which allows them to continue tradin

RIDING school owners Laura and Philip Sullivan were left facing bankruptcy when a dispute with council chiefs over paperwork almost cost them their business.

But although they have agreed a compromise with the council, which allows them to continue trading, they still face the threat of possible criminal prosecution over breaching the terms of their licence.

Sedgeway Equestrian Centre was closed down after Mr and Mrs Sullivan, who had spent five years and invested thousands building the business, were told they couldn't renew their licence.

They were forced to cancel lessons including two visits from the Riding for the Disabled Association and put on hold plans for a £100,000 indoor school.

Problems arose when, although they had submitted their licence application form in time, they had failed to include the vet's report giving the business the all clear by the cut off date.

The couple had also failed to send a vet's certificate stating that one of the horses, Polly, was fit to be used for lessons in the school after the council had raised concerns about her low weight.

East Cambridgeshire District Council's animal welfare officers decided that the couple were not paying enough attention to conditions of the licence and rejected its renewal.

On Tuesday, the couple took their case to Ely Magistrates Court to appeal against the rejection of the licence in a bid to save their Witchford-based business which is British Horse Society approved.

But after discussions with the council's solicitor, they agreed a compromise which would give them a three-month provisional licence whilst they adhere to conditions laid down.

Their appeal was withdrawn but magistrates rejected their plea for the council to pick up their legal bill and they were left facing more than £900 in costs.

They did, however, order that the council should pay the £400 fee for a British Horse Society expert to attend the hearing to back the Sullivan's case.

Magistrates decided that the Sullivan's called the expert because they had been disadvantaged when the council refused to give their reasons for refusing the licence at a court hearing just five days earlier.

John Aspinall representing the couple told the court: "Not only have Mr and Mrs Sullivan incurred considerable loss and income which they cannot claim from this court but they have legal costs for this hearing which could have been avoided.

"There had been no indication that the council was going to revoke their licence."

Problems began when council animal welfare officer, Veronica Avery, visited the riding school in October and expressed concerns that four of the horses were underweight and there was dung left lying in the pastures.

Council vet, Matthew Tong, agreed and asked for the horses, Chappie, Stroller, Polly and Darcy, to be removed from the school.

Polly was returned to the school but a vet's certificate giving her the all-clear was never sent to the council.

The council also argued that the school was licensed for 10 horses but had 14 at the school.

Council solicitor, David Barker, told the court: "We feel that the Sullivans are lacksidasical in abiding by the conditions of the licence. These are public safety and welfare issues which the Sullivans appear to be saying are just administrative matters.

"But we are prepared to grant them a provisional licence while they tighten up on these conditions."

Laura told the Ely Standard after the hearing: "I can only apologise profusely for making an error.

"Last year we completed our licence application in exactly the same way and the licence was grant. We were never told we had not followed the rules.

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