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The comhairle broke the law when it seized a horse living in its owner’s front room, Stornoway Sheriff Court has been told.


Then it acted as “judge, jury and executioner” in the case involving Stephanie Ann Noble.


Final submissions in the legal action were heard at court where Ms Noble, 70, is trying to stop the council from selling the adult Connemara pony.


The local authority took away the animal called Grey Lady Too in February 2014, claiming its living conditions for the previous two years in the front room of the ex-council house at Broadbay View, Back, in Lewis, were too cramped and broke government guidelines.


Though Ms Noble is still the official owner, the comhairle is forced to pay thousands of pounds in looking after it.


The council is seeking legal ownership to dispose of the horse.


Her advocate, Stewart Buchanan, told sheriff David Sutherland that the comhairle “acted unlawfully” and were unfair to Ms Noble.


He urged the sheriff to order the council to return the horse to Ms Noble, possibly with a condition that a suitable stable is provided.


He said the council’s animal welfare officer already knew what a local vet’s opinion was when he commissioned him to certify the horse was at risk.


The vet was not “impartial or unbiased” as he had previously carried out a similar assessment for the SSPCA.


The lawyer also challenged the appointment of the council’s animal welfare officer as an independent animal inspector under the legislation.


Mr Buchanan said “He has to act personally - he cannot act on behalf of the local authority.”


The council “had no powers under the act to possess the horse. That was an unlawful act.”


The council “threatened” Ms Noble by “shooting across her bow.”


The council obtained a vet’s opinion which was known in advance would support its case, “the council seizes the horse and now wants ownership to sell it thus acting as “judge, jury and executioner,” said Mr Buchanan.


Any risk of suffering was “remote” as Ms Noble protect doorways, windows, the floor and electrical sockets while grazing was not an issue he contended.


Representing the comhairle was advocate Mark Mohammed who highlighted the case was not about any “perceived strangeness” in Ms Noble’s lifestyle nor about the “appropriateness or sensibility of living with a horse in her living room.”


This is “about the welfare of Grey Lady Too.”


It was “never in dispute the pony was suffering at the time” but centred on the “likeliness of suffering” in the future.


There was no evidence provided to contradict the vet’s opinion stressed Mr Mohammed.


The animal inspector had a vet’s certificate outlining the risk to the horse and was “lawfully entitled to take possession.”


Waiting two years with the horse living in the house before any action does not invalidate the council’s case, he added.


They “indulged” Ms Noble by giving her more time.


The inspector was “more lenient with her than he should have” - thus he was fair, unbiased and “bending over backwards to help her,” said the legal agent.


Sheriff David Sutherland will deliver his judgement at a later date.

Council “acted unlawfully” in seizing horse

1 July 2017