A PENSIONER has been ordered to hand back three prize showjumpers stolen from a Belgian stable yard at dead of night after a top judge said she had ‘most unreasonably’ kept hold of them.
Joan Whetter, 70, said she was ‘very fond’ of the three — Mouche, Liago and Caretanne — and insisted she was entitled to keep them after ‘bartering’ them from a well known horse dealer.
Ms Whetter, who keeps a large number of horses at her farm in Draycott-in-the- Clay, said she was the victim of a conspiracy and had ‘legitimately acquired’ the three in good faith from ‘somewhat shadowy’ trainer, Guy Jacobs.
She also denied they were the same horses that were rustled from a stable yard near Liege in December 2008, two weeks before they came into her possession.
But Judge Anthony Thornton QC has now ordered Ms Whetter’s to hand back the horses to their rightful owners, Belgian nationals, Ms Joelle Triplot and Ms Mercedes Destine.
The judge said that, during the High Court case, Ms Whetter had made ‘very serious allegations of fraud, dishonesty and collusion’ against both women — as well as Michel Jennekens, a chief inspector in the Belgian police, who investigated the thefts.
But they were not supported by the evidence at trial and her cross-examination of witnesses in court had been “in large measure irrelevant and incomprehensible,” he added.
Based on her own observations and examination of the animals’ teeth, Mrs Whetter said the horses in her possession were not the same as those stolen in Belgium.
She accused Ms Triplot and Ms Destine of being in league with the Belgian police in a bid to get back the horses she had legitimately acquired from Mr Jacobs who, she insisted, either had good title to barter them or the owners’ permission to do so.
However the judge said microchips embedded in each of the horses bore the same numbers as those stolen in Belgium.
“I conclude that Ms Triplot and Ms Devine have proved beyond any reasonable doubt that, between them, they own, and were and remain entitled to possession of, the three horses,” the judge said.
“Ms Whetter has, as I find, most unreasonably retained possession of the three horses and most unreasonably has ignored the overwhelming evidence that her beliefs as to those horses are wrong.”
Ms Whetter represented herself throughout the High Court case, and the judge observed: “She has unreasonably believed in the correctness of her own view so firmly that she has never regarded it as necessary to obtain legal advice.”
And Judge Thornton ruled: “The claimants are entitled to immediate delivery up of the three horses and Ms Whetter’s counterclaim for the right to buy the horses and for compensation for their stabling and livery is dismissed.”
The judge said he had heard from Chief Inspector Jennekens that Mr Jacobs, a Belgian national, ‘is still facing criminal proceedings in Belgium and will in the future be charged’ with stealing the three horses and four others from Ms Triplot’s yard.
He added: “Ms Whetter now accepts that Mr Jacobs has defrauded her in relation to a separate transaction in which she bought or bartered a horse from him which he subsequently stole from her.”
And he said of Mr Jacobs: “The evidence suggested that he leads a somewhat shadowy existence and was thought by all the witnesses in the trial, including Ms Whetter, to have a criminal background.”