A horse rider who was conned into handing over £900 for a cremation for her beloved animal by a fraudster has told of her agony after finding out the horse had instead been turned into fertiliser.
Sharon Widdows, 40, wanted to give her thoroughbred gelding Otto a dignified send-off after he had to be put down aged 18 following a fall.
She paid Philip Cooper £920 for a private cremation and was assured his ashes would be presented to her shortly after the service.
But the mother-of-two contacted authorities when she was handed a casket which she knew was too small to contain 16.3hh Otto’s ashes.
The box was just 18 inches long and weighed 5kg when it should have contained 20kg of ashes. Tests later revealed the remains were not Otto’s.
Trading standards launched an investigation and found 31 riders had been duped by Cooper, 69, who made £500 profit on each cremation.
Instead of giving them a private burial, he dumped the horses with dozens of other animal carcasses and took them to a rendering plant – where he paid £40 to have them made into glue and fertiliser.
The knackerman, from Chilcompton, Somerset, admitted fraud at Gloucester Crown Court and was given an eight-month sentence suspended for two years.
He has been told to pay nearly £53,000 in compensation to his victims.
Heartbroken Sharon, from Stonehouse, Gloucestershire, said: “He was such a special horse, he was a part of our family.
“When he had to be put down I asked for a private cremation.
“I paid £920 and was assured he would be treated with dignity. I was absolutely gutted that Otto had died but believed he would be getting the send-off I wanted.
“The girl at the vets was shaking as she handed over the casket. I got it home and it was just tiny with a small amount of bone and ash inside. I knew something was really wrong.”
Sharon, who owns dog-grooming parlour Skalliwags, was given Otto by Tumpy Green Equestrian centre after he retired as a riding horse.
He became a part of her family for the next two years until he fell in a field and had to be put down.
She called out Bushy Equine, which had a contract with Cooper to carry out private cremations.
But when the ashes failed to arrive, Sharon called the vets who claimed Otto had been taken for cremation in Exeter, which does not have a crematorium.
“It was such an upsetting thing to hear. Otto was actually chopped up and turned into fertiliser, it is sickening,” she said.
Bushy Equine’s Ian Cam said: “We thought a good professional service was being done, but were defrauded like they [Cooper’s victims] were.”