GISBURN Auction Mart has been hit with fines and costs totalling more than £12,000 after being convicted of failing to prevent unnecessary suffering of a sheep.

Blackburn magistrates imposed the penalty because of what the chairman described as the “prolonged neglect” and high level of suffering of the animal which sustained a broken back while it was being penned.

The court heard the firm’s yard foreman, Christopher Raw, had admitted responsibility for the injury and he had been prosecuted in April for his role in the incident.

He was made subject to a curfew for three months and ordered to pay £1,000 costs.

Gisburn Auction Marts Ltd was convicted after trial of failing to prevent the unnecessary suffering of an animal.

They were fined £6,500 and ordered to pay £6,000 costs.

When Raw appeared before the magistrates the court was told he reported the incident to two of the company directors and was told to move the animal to a quiet place and monitor it.

The following day a manager came in on his day off after being alerted to the animal’s plight by another member of staff.

He shot the animal immediately to end its suffering, 29 hours after it had been injured.

A post mortem examination revealed the animal’s spinal cord had been completely fractured and it would have been in pain right up to the moment it was destroyed.

Jack Troup, prosecuting the Auction Mart on behalf of Lancashire Trading Standards, said the offence went back to December 2016 when the animal was injured by Mr Raw as he put it in a pen.

“It was a failure of systems and complacency on the part of the company which lead to the animal suffering,” said Mr Troup.

He said the Auction Mart had previous convictions in 2014 for allowing 24 lame lambs to be exposed for sale and in 2017 for allowing 35 sheep to be exposed for sale while unfit.

Ros Scott-Bell, defending, said the company found itself in a difficult and embarrassing situation.

“Their business is the oil that lubricates the interface between farmers and supermarkets,” said Miss Scott-Bell.

“Without Gisburn Auction Mart these local farmers would have to travel to Yorkshire or Cumbria or even further afield.

“It is distressing for the directors who pride themselves on their handling of animals to find themselves in this position,” she said.

Miss Scott-Bell described Mr Raw as a “rogue employee”. She said he was a welfare officer and had the authority to call the vet or the knackerman.

“The company can’t have a policy to watch out for senior staff committing offences,” said Miss Scott-Bell.

“He was a responsible member of staff.”

Miss Scott-Bell said the company had now enlisted the help of an external company to provide animal welfare training to all staff and there was an induction course for all new staff.

She said they had invested £500,000 in the last 12 months to improve facilities.

“I would ask you to take into account all that has been done in the last two years and not to impose a financial penalty that is going to crush them.”