A hunter who shot dead a ten-year-old girl’s “beautiful” pet Shetland pony Maisie claiming he’d mistaken it for a fox has been ordered to do 120 hours of unpaid work and pay £500 compensation to the animal’s owners.
Samuel McLean of Greenville Avenue, Ballymoney, has been sentenced at Coleraine Magistrates Court after pleading guilty to a charge of criminal damage at an earlier hearing.
The specifics of the charge were that the defendant in August last year ‘without lawful excuse destroyed a Shetland Pony foal … intending to damage or destroy such property or being reckless as to whether such property would be destroyed or damaged contrary to Article 3(1) of the Criminal Damage (Northern Ireland) Order 1977’.
The court heard the 30-year-old was ‘lamping’ for foxes in the Castleroe area when the fatal shot was fired.
He told police he’d shot at what he believed was a fox, lost sight of the animal, then fired again when it reappeared.
It was the second shot that resulted in the death of the Shetland pony.
A defence lawyer said the fact that he animal was an 18-month-old foal may have explained how his client made the mistake.
He added that it also standing in a “dip in the hill”
The lawyer said when McLean realised what had happened, he immediately began knocking on doors to try and establish who the pony’s owners were.
He added: “There never would have been any prospect of a ballistics trace on his rifle.
“He could have fled and he could have evaded responsibility”.
It emerged during the hearing that McLean, a keen huntsman, was likely to lose his firearms licence.
District Judge Peter King said: “Those who enjoy shooting and hunting as a sport are perfectly entitled to do so. However, with that sport comes significant obligations.
“Unfortunately you have failed to handle your firearm in a responsible manor.
Sentencing him to 120 hours community service, the judge added: “If you can’t handle firearms responsibly there are consequences.”
Judge King ordered McLean to pay the owners for the Shetland Pony £500 compensation.
In 2017, a family said they had been left traumatised after Maisie was shot.
Mum-of-six Rhonda Burns (49) wrote on social media at the time: “Two days of the worst trauma any child could ever suffer – no 10 year old should ever have to see her beautiful pet pony brutally shot by accident! and left for dead 30 yards from her front door- our family are devastated”.
Referring to Maisie she added: “Sleep tight little princess”.
Rhonda told the Belfast Telegraph at the time her children were horrified to discover their small Shetland pony Maisie, who had been turned out in a field with her mum Bluebell, lying blood-soaked and lifeless outside their home on a Sunday morning.
Rhonda, who was not at home when the discovery was made, said that her younger daughters thought the pony was sleeping in the field until they received a knock at the front door.
“My whole family is still in shock and we are swinging between inconsolable sobbing and anger,” Rhonda had said.
“A man came to our door and told my 19-year-old that he had been fox hunting, there had been an accident in the early hours and he had killed the pony.
“He said he would ensure that a claim form was sent out, left his contact details and said he would contact the police.
“When I saw the scene it was horrific with copious amounts of blood, and Maisie’s mother Bluebell was shaking in distress and trying to nudge the pony. She was covered in Maisie’s blood and was frantically trying to get her to respond.
“I have four daughters still at home aged 10, 14, 19 and 21 and they had to see that scene. They loved that pony. I don’t know how we will get over this.
“We have seen people ‘lamping’ foxes several times in nearby fields.
“This tragedy shows that it’s not safe at all. It was only a matter of time before something like this happened.
“Anybody who could mistake a horse for a small animal isn’t in a fit state to handle a weapon.
“It makes me really angry but also terrified about what could happen.
“These people are roaming about the countryside with no regard for the law, where they are allowed to shoot in the vicinity of homes.
“Maisie was just a pet, only a year-and-a-half old and there were times I would have come into the living room to find her on my sofa. The girls are totally absorbed in their animals and this is such a cruel way for a pony to be killed.
“Now we are left with the memory of the smell of death.”