Horse owner guilty of animal cruelty and injuring three bystanders in Victoria street race

In a bid to make the horse run faster, the accused had mercilessly whipped the animal’s genitals ‘to get its blood up’, while the jockey and his son held it down before the race had started

File photo
File photo

The owner of a racehorse which bolted and injured three spectators after it was whipped, has been handed a suspended sentence by a court in Gozo after he was found guilty of involuntary bodily harm and cruelty to animals.

Inspector Bernard Charles Spiteri had charged Dylan Micallef over an incident which happened in July 2018 at Triq Fortunato Mizzi in Victoria, Gozo. Micallef had been waiting, together with the jockey and his son at the starting line, waiting for the 11:20pm race to begin.

The court heard how, in a bid to make the horse run faster, Micallef had mercilessly whipped the animal’s genitals “to get its blood up”, while the jockey and his son held it down before the race had started.

One of the victims, who suffered a permanent disability as a result of the incident, testified to having seen two men holding the horse and one man whipping it from behind.

The terrified animal broke free and bolted into the crowd as a result of the beating. “I heard people screaming and the horse went out of control,” the victim told the court.

“I was lucky because the horse’s sulky got stuck to a road sign and threw me against the wall. The horse went for me and galloping at me, smashing me against the wall…The owner of the horse grabbed the horse and left, as if nothing happened.”

The victim who suffered the worst injuries had suffered three broken ribs and required 35 sutures in his hip, spending four months requiring a catheter to urinate.

The whipping of the horse, well in advance of the race, should be classified as nothing else but animal cruelty, ruled the court.

“Finally, in view of the actions of the accused, as cruel as they are reckless, led to [one of the victim’s] life changing overnight, [another victim] suffering disfigurement for some time and [the third victim] being slightly injured. It is the view of the court that a fine alone would not be a punishment which reflects the seriousness of the accused’s actions, which caused so much suffering, not only to the horse, but also to no less than three other persons.”

The jockey and his son had testified in the case, 19 months after the incident, with the former claiming that the animal had bolted after being bumped from behind by another horse and the latter testifying that the horse had been accidentally struck by a whip. The court, however, observed that their testimony had been contradicted by other eyewitnesses, who said that they had only seen one horse at the start line at the time.

“It also appears that enough time had passed for the accused to forget what he had said to the police, and thus showing that the jockey and his son had lied,” the court said.

Magistrate Frendo Dimech, presiding over the Court of Magistrates in its Criminal Judicature in Gozo, also noted that “had the police bothered to collect the CCTV footage from cameras covering the street where the incident took place, the facts would have been established much earlier and would have possibly translated into much more economical proceedings, both with regards time and costs to the taxpayer.”

The court declared Dylan Micallef guilty and sentenced him to 20-months in prison, which were suspended for three years. He was also fined €5,000, being ordered to pay the fine in monthly instalments over a two-year period.

The magistrate pointed out that she was unable to ban the man from owning animals because the incident had taken place before the law was amended to allow such a penalty to be imposed in cases of animal cruelty.

Micallef was also ordered to foot the €846.51 bill for court expenses.

Inspector Bernard Charles Spiteri led the prosecution.

Magistrate Donatella Frendo Dimech presided.

Animal welfare commissioner reaction

Reacting to the incident, Animal welfare commissioner Alison Bezzina slammed the practice.

“The area where the horse was beaten had no form of security and yet, the accused decided to mercilessly beat an animal just to win a simple race during a village feast,” she said.

She explained that since the crime occurred in 2018 the court could not prohibit the accused from owning or residing under the same roof as animals, because this amendment in the law only came into effect in 2021. “Clearly had it been possible to impose this ban, the court felt that it would have been justified,” explained Bezzina.

“It is outrageous that people are ready to inflict pain on innocent animals, just for their own pleasure and entertainment, in this case to win a simple trophy in a road horse race.  For this man, who was only 20 years old at the time, to be already so blinded by this ambition, and go to such lengths to win, is worrying to say the least,” she said.