All horse-theft charges against Nicola Subritzky have been dismissed.
Judge Jane Farish said in the Christchurch District Court yesterday there was no evidence on the legal ownership of the horses, and she was not convinced Subritzky acted dishonestly.
The judge's decision came at the end of a three-day defended hearing where Subritzky, a 41-year-old horse trainer, denied three charges alleging she stole five horses, the Christchurch Court News website reported.
"On all the evidence, I am not satisfied that at the time she was acting dishonestly," the judge said.
"She did nothing underhand, was transparent in her behaviour with the SPCA and police, and sought legal advice. The welfare of the horses was her paramount concern."
One charge was that Subritzky took three horses belonging to Paul and Debbie Thistoll, of Emerald Lodge near Darfield, but they were bankrupt before the horses were taken.
Another charge was that she took a horse, the property of Burnham Blood Stock, but that was in liquidation then and no longer existed.
The judge dismissed the third charge because Subritzky had the consent of farm manager John White to take the horse, and there was no evidence that she intended to permanently deprive the owner of it, she said. There was no evidence that the owner had asked for the return of her horse or that Subritzky knew it belonged to her.
White was holding the horses at Tui Creek, near the Rakaia Gorge, because he had not been paid more than $60,000 for their grazing.
The judge said Subritzky was made aware of the state of the horses being grazed at Tui Creek for the Thistolls.
Subritzky sent two complaints, four emails and had phone conversations with the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, but no-one went to see the horses.
"If they had gone there they would have realised that the complaints were well-founded," the judge said.
Last May, Subritzky was asked by White to remove the horses as the farm had been sold and had to be destocked.
Seventeen horses were taken, and two of them had to be put down.
All were in poor condition and required veterinary attention, the judge said.
Subritzky found the owners of the horses and they were uplifted.
In July, another five horses were removed from Tui Creek, and they were the subject of the charges. On August 14, the SPCA inspected the horses on Subritzky's property and told her that it was no longer lawful for her to hold the horses as the SPCA was involved with the stock at Emerald Lodge, the stud farm involved.
She said she did not return them because of the neglect of the horses, and told them that the horses were not going back to Emerald Lodge to die.
Subritzky was last night celebrating with friends and members of the racing fraternity.
She said she "burst into tears" when she heard the judge's decision.
"I rescued those horses for the horses.
"It had nothing to do with the Thistolls, it's about the welfare of the animals," she said.
"I was disappointed that I didn't get to tell the story about what had been happening over the last year and how much work went into making those horses safe."
The judge said the official assignee for Emerald Lodge had never asked for the horses back.
"The Thistolls and Burnham Blood Stock do not own the horses," she said.
Police prosecutor Sergeant Paul Brocas said Subritzky had a claim of right over the horses until she was told by the SPCA to return them. "The SPCA are the animal police in this country," he said.
The judge said Subritzky's claim of right was a genuine belief that the act was lawful.
She had legal advice and it was more than reasonable for her to assume the horses should stay with her after the inaction by the SPCA over several months, even with evidence the horses were in poor condition.
- The Press
Which memorial design do you like most?Related story: Christchurch earthquake memorial designs unveiled