Yell crofter guilty of ‘appalling’ neglect of sheep on his farm

A crofter who neglected his sheep in an “appalling” case of animal cruelty was given two weeks by Lerwick Sheriff Court to come up with proposals for looking after them.

Laurence Johnson, 52, of Windhouse Farm, Mid Yell, had previously admitted causing nine Shetland ewes and one Shetland ram unnecessary suffering by failing to provide feeding and veterinary care for them, and to having unburied carcasses on his land. The offences were discovered at the farm on 12th January by an SSPCA inspector after a tip-off from a concerned member of the public.

The court heard today that the SSPCA inspector had found dead and dying animals on the croft on his visit. Some had been dead for some time, others recently deceased. Yet others were emaciated and close to death. One had exposed skin on its rear and another was on its knees and could not rise. When the inspector went to Johnson’s house to speak to him he was met with a “shrug of the shoulders”.

Procurator fiscal Duncan MacKenzie said that Johnson’s demeanour suggested he “couldn’t care less” about the suffering animals, which had been no more that “80 paces” from the farm buildings.

Mr MacKenzie said there was no winter fodder available for the sheep and the gate to the hill was shut so that there was no escape for the sheep to forage. The weather was severe at the time and the sheep were scraping at the ground to break through the frost.

Defence solicitor Tommy Allan said Johnson had around 2,000 sheep earning him around £40,000 per year, and a large area of land. He had spent his working life looking after livestock but at the time of the inspection Johnson, who has four children but lives on his own, had been ill in bed for a week. His son, who would normally help him, was having “difficulties of his own”.

Johnson said he could not see all the field from his house, but accepted he should have got someone to tend the sheep.

Sheriff Graeme Napier said this was no mitigation. “He [Johnson] was so ill he couldn’t get out of the house but he didn’t require medical attention.”

Mr Allan said there had been another inspection since January and a vet was drawing up plans for looking after the sheep, which Johnson would have to sign. The costs involved were being borne by Johnson, Mr Allan said.

But the sheriff said: “Someone who’s been in the business since he was a youngster shouldn’t have to be told by a vet how to look after sheep.” He wanted to know why the vet’s plan had not been drawn up yet and told Johnson: “You will have to do a lot to persuade me you should not be disqualified from keeping animals.”

Calling the case “appalling”, he pointed out that the issue was animal welfare and not Johnson’s income. It was even more appalling, he said, that it had been going on since January and “inexplicable”, given the money coming in, that Johnson had allowed the situation to arise.

Johnson now has two weeks in which to convince the sheriff that he should be allowed to keep animals. He will appear in court again on 3rd November.


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