A man has been jailed for four months after leaving his four horses - one of which died - unattended while he was in London and Paris recuperating from reconstructive surgery to his ear.

Simon David Docherty, of Riverside Campsite in Queensferry, was sentenced by Chester magistrates after pleading guilty at an earlier hearing to causing unnecessary suffering to a protected animal and failing in his duty as the person responsible for the animals to ensure their welfare.

The court heard that Docherty, 33, believed someone else was looking after the horses - which were kept in a field on Shotwick Lane in Shotwick Village - while his family took him to the capital cities following an operation to rebuild his ear after it was bitten off in a fight ten years ago.

An RSPCA inspector discovered three horses in poor condition and another dead on March 19 last year.

Chris Murphy, prosecuting, said the ‘particularly harsh’ winter contributed to the condition of the horses.

Graham Jones, who had been helping to take care of the horses, felt he could no longer continue and visited the site where Mr Docherty lived twice but, unable to talk to him directly, left a message telling him he couldn’t look after them any more.

Docherty said he did not get the message.

Michael Sophocleous, defending, said Docherty has been around animals all of his life and was ‘very proud’ of his horses, adding that the deceased horse, Seabiscuit, was a ‘prized possession’.

Mr Sophocleous said Docherty was told by his doctors that the risk of infection was very high following his surgery and that he should avoid any contact with animals.

He described the case as an ‘isolated incident’ and said that his client had arranged care for the horses but ‘he was let down’.

“It is unfortunate that he placed reliance on others to care for these horses. His neglect was perhaps by not making enough enquiries with the people caring for them,” Mr Sophocleous said.

In addition to sentencing Docherty to four months imprisonment for each charge, to be served concurrently, district judge Michael Abelson ordered him to pay £19,807.05 in costs over the next 12 months to cover the RSPCA’s care for the remaining horses.

Docherty was also banned from having anything to do with the keeping or owning of animals for the next ten years and a deprivation order was made for the remaining three horses.

Mr Abelson said: “It is all very well saying you asked someone else to look after them but these animals were your responsibility. By your plea, you accept that they were your responsibility.”

Mr Abelson thanked the RSPCA for their work in the case, adding: “It is absolutely essential that in these difficult economic times, the RSPCA is able to pursue these cases.”

RSPCA inspector Naomi Norris said: “This was a horrific case for RSPCA officers and the police to deal with. Sadly incidents involving horse neglect are on the increase.

“But anyone who does neglect their equines needs to understand that we will investigate them and if the evidence is there we will take the offenders to court.”