A FAMILY have had to pay more than £1,500 to recover a pet horse they feared had been stolen in the middle of the night.
Leigh Newton, 15, of Luke Terrace, Wheatley Hill, thought her much-loved four-year-old cob Toby had been taken by thieves from land near her home.
But it turned out the horse had been taken by bailiffs during a Durham County Council action against what it called stray horses tethered without permission on plots of council land.
Her father, Keith, discovered that Toby had been taken more than 300 miles away to Somerset.
He had to borrow money for the £1,223 charge to release Toby and £300 to pay for diesel to collect him from the South-West.
Mr Newton said: “I think it is disgraceful. Toby is micro-chipped and registered so they could have scanned him and found out who he belonged to.
“They didn’t have to take him all the way down there. They could surely have found a holding place around here.
“It is very heavy-handed and took me 14 hours to get back.
“There was no need to come in the middle of the night and pinch the bairn’s horse.
“If I hadn’t paid, that horse would have been going to auction and then for slaughter for dog food.
“That will happen to the horses of people who cannot afford to pay it.”
Mr Newton said the family were on holiday when the council put up signs warning that Toby should be removed and that he was unaware of the council’s action.
Toby is now in a field at Thornley.
Ian Hoult, the council’s neighbourhood protection manager, said the authority made every effort to trace the owners of horses illegally tethered on its land.
He said: “We put up signs in the local area, endeavour to find out if the animal has a microchip and we speak to the local community.
“Where this doesn’t result in the owner removing the horse or contacting us, we have to consider impoundments for the safety of the horse and the public.
“Tethered horses can be more likely to bite or kick members of the public if they feel threatened and if they become loose can cause road accidents so we have a responsibility to ensure they are removed and encourage horse owners to ensure their animals graze safely in appropriate areas.”