Man dumped ten dead giant tortoises in woodland after heating lamp failed

Gary Priddle, who is an electrician, failed to check on the exotic reptiles over the festive period where they froze to death.

Man dumped ten dead giant tortoises in Devon woodland after heating lamp failed Getty Images

An electrician did not check on his giant tortoises over the festive period – leading them to freeze to death when their heating lamp failed, a court heard.

Gary Priddle, 56, admitted an offence relating to the deaths of ten Aldabra tortoises at his home in Exeter, Devon, between December 23 and 29 last year.

The animal enthusiast, of Grecian Way, also pleaded guilty to dumping the bodies in areas of woodland in east Devon – including on a National Trust estate – after discovering that they had died.

Priddle appeared before Exeter Magistrates’ Court on Thursday, where he received a community order including 50 hours of unpaid work and was banned from keeping tortoises for ten years.

District Judge Stuart Smith told him: “These ten tortoises were exotic reptiles which were not native to this country or this climate.

“They were unique and required, I’m sure, very specific knowledge and care. They were entirely dependant and reliant on you to meet their needs.

“You described them as your pride and joy but for six days you prioritised your festive celebrations over their care and completely ignored your responsibility to them, not checking on them for that time.

“You failed to notice the heating lamp had failed and as a result, these magnificent creatures have all died from the cold conditions. A devastating tragedy which was completely avoidable.

“You panicked and chose to secrete their bodies in east Devon which led to the police press release for information.

“Members of the public will be shocked and distressed to hear about the sad deaths of these ten very impressive animals.”

The judge said Priddle had no previous convictions and had never been in trouble with the courts or police before the incident.

He added: “You have expressed genuine remorse and upset. I believe you cared deeply for them.

“You have previously rescued tortoises and nurtured them. I consider that this was an isolated incident over that period of time over Christmas.”

The judge said Priddle had surrendered more than 50 other animals found at his home to police.

Priddle admitted failing to meet the needs of the tortoises by not checking on their welfare or heating system, which “failed and led to the animals’ deaths”, contrary to the Animal Welfare Act 2006.

He also pleaded guilty to leaving the tortoises in areas of east Devon, in places where the Environmental Protection Act 1990 applied.

Prosecuting, Samantha Rogers told how the giant tortoises were located in woodland including at the National Trust’s Killerton Estate over a number of days from January 8.

Devon and Cornwall Police launched a public appeal for information, including images of the tortoises that had been found.

Ms Rogers said: “Police were contacted by a member of the public who advised he had seen the tortoises at an address when he was viewing that address for sale.

“Officers and the RSPCA attended the home address of the defendant. He told officers he was responsible for the tortoises.”

During police interviews, Priddle told officers he had not attended to the tortoises for a six-day period and returned to find the heating lamp had stopped working, with the animals deceased in their shed.

He said he “panicked” and placed the tortoises in his car, dumping their remains days later.

Post-mortem examinations found the tortoises had died from metabolic bone disease linked to “poor husbandry”, as well as a “lack of acute heating during one of the coldest periods of the year”, Ms Rogers said.

She added: “He had had them since they were babies, so 15 years.

“He said he was an electrician and he had installed power to the shed where they lived. He said there was a fault with the supply and that caused the electrics to fail.”

Peter Seigne, representing Priddle, said: “This was an isolated incident, he has cared for tortoises for virtually all of his life.”

The court heard Priddle surrendered 13 adult and 40 baby tortoises, of a different species, to police from his address.

Priddle was sentenced to a 12-month community order, with a requirement to complete 50 hours of unpaid work.

He must also pay costs of £85 and a surcharge of £140.

The judge also impose an order under section 34 of the Animal Welfare Act, disqualifying Priddle from owning or looking after tortoises for ten years.

STV News is now on WhatsApp

Get all the latest news from around the country

Follow STV News
Follow STV News on WhatsApp

Scan the QR code on your mobile device for all the latest news from around the country

WhatsApp channel QR Code