A HORSE trader disappeared from court as he was due to be sentenced to six months behind bars for a “horrendous case of animal cruelty”.

James Gray had been granted bail within the confines of Aylesbury Crown Court as Judge Christopher Tyrer and two magistrates retired to consider their sentencing for nine offences under the Animal Welfare Act shortly after 1pm today.

But he failed to show up when he and four other members of his family were sentenced at 2.30pm.

Judge Tyrer issued a warrant for his arrest after 46-year-old Gray's barrister, Mike Fullerton, admitted to the court he had “no idea” where the defendant was. Mr Fullerton told the judge he had not seen him since the court rose.

Gray was today being sentenced for nine charges under the Animal Welfare Act after more than 30 dead horses, ponies and donkeys were found at Spindles Farm in Chalk Lane, Hyde Heath, which he owned. About another 100 more were found emaciated and were seized by the RSPCA. Some had to be put down as they had been so badly neglected.

He had been found guilty of the offences following a trial last year, and lost a subsequent appeal following a three-month hearing.

His original sentence – of a 26-week prison term, a lifelong ban from keeping equines and being ordered to pay £400,000 costs – stands.

The prison term is the longest permitted under the Animal Welfare Act. Judge Tyrer said: “If this is not the case for a maximum sentence, we struggle to find out what is.”

Gray's son, 17-year-old James junior, was convicted of seven offences after two charges were dropped during the course of the appeal and he successfully appealed against two more.

Gray's wife, Julie, and daughters Jodie and Cordelia had their appeals against two charges dismissed.

All four had minimum disqualification periods from keeping equines increased from five years to seven.

Addressing the four defendants present in court for sentencing, Judge Tyrer said: “What the court has been listening to is a horrendous case of animal cruelty. It is the worst case ever experienced by the RSPCA. In our judgment, this was animal cruelty on a scale that beggars belief.

“From January 2008 the RSPCA were faced with a calamity of huge proportions.”

The animals were found in “squalor”, he said, and were “hungry and thirsty, dejected, miserable and depressed”.

He continued: “The business, of which all of you were party, was concerned only with profit. Animal welfare did not figure at all.

“None of you has shown any remorse. You continued to protest your innocence in the face of overwhelming evidence.

“All the three female appellants simply did was distance themselves by pretending a lack of involvement.”

Addressing James junior, the judge said: “You admitted some of the animals belonged to you and you were responsible. You clearly knew about the carcasses. You could have admitted your guilt and it is your own fault you have spent so much time in court as a consequence.”

Judge Tyrer said James junior had been in “receipt of appalling examples of behaviour” from his father.

But he added he had not been “rebuked” for his “abysmal behaviour” at Hughenden Manor, when he and his father had been seen to 'drag' an ill horse that was put down just days later across the ground using ropes.

Judge Tyrer said: “So far as James senior is concerned, we find his was the primary responsibility and he has not faced up to it. He has shown no acknowledgement. He has shown no remorse."

Addressing Julie, Judge Tyrer said: “You knew what was going on. You had your dog in the yard, which you visited daily, and you could see what was going on in and around the yard.”