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Thursday, 23 March, 2000, 23:10 GMT
Crufts judge admits animal cruelty
dog charge
Some dogs were in home-made kennels
A Crufts dog show judge has been banned from keeping animals for two years after pleading guilty to 83 charges of animal cruelty.

A court heard that RSPCA inspectors and police found dogs living in squalor at the home of 65-year-old Caroline Gatheral, which she shared with her 63-year-old sister Mary.

Caroline Gatheral
Caroline Gatheral judged at Crufts
Mary Gatheral also pleaded guilty at Bishop Auckland magistrates court to 83 charges of causing unnecessary suffering to animals.

Kevin Campbell, prosecuting for the RSPCA, told the court that conditions at the sisters' home in Sockburn Hall, Neasham, near Darlington, Co Durham, were "atrocious".

He said floors of the house were covered in up to six inches of "compacted dog excrement" and that many of the animals were caged in home-made kennels.

Veterinary reports later revealed that many of the animals, including, Jack Russells, King Charles Spaniels and long-haired Daschunds, were suffering from various eye, mouth and ear problems.

She will no doubt attempt to move heaven and earth to rectify matters as the love of her life is her dogs

Defence solicitor Terry Hamer
Many of the dogs had rotten teeth which subsequently had to be removed by vets.

Caroline Gatheral is an authority on King Charles Spaniels, and took part in judging at this year's Crufts.

Magistrates heard that hundreds if not thousands of people had offered their support to the sisters.

Solicitor Terry Hamer, defending, told the court even his fees were being paid by friends and supporters of the two Gatheral sisters.

He told the court one retired senior police officer had made a written statement for the court which read: "This clearly is a case where someone who loves her dogs has, through unfortunate personal circumstances, allowed herself to lower her personal standards.

"She will no doubt attempt to move heaven and earth to rectify matters as the love of her life is her dogs."

Dog charge
The dogs were living in squalid conditions
Mr Hamer said: "These two ladies did not realise how many friends they had until they were prosecuted - that is the only up side of this prosecution.

"Three vets have said they could not imagine three more caring, considerate, knowledgeable people where animals are concerned."

Mr Hamer said problems at the breeding kennels had started when a third sister, a widow living at Whickham, near Newcastle, had a brain haemorrhage and had to be cared for by her other two sisters.

Mr Hamer said: "It's another example of the RSPCA going at something with a sledgehammer."

Mary Gatheral
Mary Gatheral also pleaded guilty
The court was told the woman could face costs of 50,000 to cover the expenses incurred by the RSPCA in housing the animals in its sanctuaries since they were seized last year.

After the hearing RSPCA inspector Garry Palmer said: "These dogs were kept in sickening conditions.

"These women were highly respected Crufts judges and the way they treated these animals left me and fellow officers disgusted and upset.

"The sisters were meant to set an example of how to treat dogs but they did not do that and let an appalling situation escalate."

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