A pensioner who ran a seal sanctuary was today convicted of causing unnecessary suffering to a seal by failing to provide veterinary care.

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Great Yarmouth Magistrates’ Court heard that Harold Nickerson, 86, formerly of Somerton Road, Winterton, kept animals in “unhygienic” conditions and allowed them to suffer.

He pleaded not guilty to seven counts of causing unnecessary suffering to animals and one count of not keeping animals in appropriate conditions between November 27, 2010 and March 4, 2011.

Nickerson, who did not attend the three-day trial, operated a small-scale seal sanctuary in Winterton where he kept orphaned and injured seals.

Inspectors from the RSPCA visited the sanctuary after a concerned member of the public alerted them on August 25, 2010. A warning was issued and inspectors visited again on March 4, 2011 and seized five seals.

The court heard that two of the seals were kept in pens in a small building, two were kept outside in a courtyard and one seal was kept in a large barn which also doubled as a gift shop.

Four of the seals were kept in dirty water and one had an ulcer on her cornea and a wound on her flipper, the court heard.

But the defence said while the sanctuary was not up to the facilities of the RSPCA or the Sealife Centre it was a “charitable organisation on a shoestring” and as such had adequate provision.

District judge Peter Veits convicted Nickerson of causing unnecessary suffering to a seal by failing to provide veterinary care. The remaining charges were dismissed.

He said: “Mr Nickerson for a great many years ran a centre that was well regarded. My view is that he carried it on too long and perhaps he didn’t realise his failings as he got older.”

The court heard the seal sanctuary is no longer operating.

Nickerson was given a conditional discharge for 12 months and ordered to pay costs of £250. He was also disqualified from keeping seals for five years.

Speaking after the hearing, RSPCA inspector Ben Kirby said: “We are pleased with today’s verdict and very satisfied with the length of disqualification.

“We took this case in good faith and only as a last resort after all other steps had failed. We felt that our concerns for the sick and injured seals were justified and that we had the appropriate evidence to support this and that is why we took the case to court.

“Seals are complex animals and do have complex needs especially if they are sick or injured and we argued that they do need expert veterinary care.

“We would also like to point out that we had tried on numerous occasions to help and work with Mr Nickerson but he had refused.

“It was therefore found that we had no other option in this instance but to put a case before the courts because we were concerned for their welfare and for the welfare of any other seals that could have come into his care in the future.

“Regarding the five seals we removed, they made a quick and full recovery while in the care of our East Winch Wildlife Centre and they have all since been successfully released back into the wild.”

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