CO Meath horse owner and trainer Luke Comer Junior appeared in court in Navan yesterday after the carcases of nine horses were found in a decomposed condition on his lands at Dunboyne, Co Meath.

In a prosecution taken against him by the Department of Agriculture, Comer was accused of failing to collect, identify and transport category 2 animal byproducts without undue delay under conditions which present risks arising to public and animal health, in breach of European Union regulations.

The offence was alleged to have been committed at Summerhill, Co Meath, in March 2021.

Solicitor Mr Hanahoe for the prosecution told Navan District Court that two inspectors from the Department had carried out an inspection and in a location near the main yard found the “fully decomposed” carcases of nine horses. It was impossible to say how old the carcases were.

Hanohoe said that two skulls were available to view in court but Judge Cormac Dunne declined to have them shown. There were up to 100 horses on the land altogether.

Chips buried

Deceased horses were normally brought to a knackery and an identity chip removed in order to provide traceability but this was impossible in this case because the chips were buried in the undergrowth in the area in which the carcases were found.

Comer was interviewed and was unable to provide an explanation for the presence of the carcases. After the inspection he had provided a receipt from the Ward Union Hunt knackery for the disposal of the carcases.

Defending barrister William Penrose told the court that his client had put a management system into place in March 2020 and he had given authority to certain people to contact the Ward Union Hunt about the carcases.

He and the manager were away on the day of the inspection. Mr Penrose said Mr Comer was “greatly taken aback”and knew nothing about the matter but co-operated fully with the Department.

Judge Dunne said that the carcases were “in full view” beside an “active track” and he found that “pretty startling”.

Mr Penrose said that his client apologised profusely and had taken steps immediately to rectify the situation.The carcases had been found at a “forestry track” and not near a training track. It was a “secluded enough” spot.

His client wanted to “move on and look after his animals responsibly”, he said. This type of incident would not occur again.

€20,000 donation

Giving his verdict, Judge Dunne said the public interest would be best served if Comer made a €20,000 donation to the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and he struck out the charges. Legal costs of €3,075 were ordered against Comer.

Last year Comer’s father and namesake was given a three-year suspension by the Referrals Committee, a penalty he has appealed. The case has yet to be heard by the Appeals Panel. He received that ban following positive tests for anabolic steroids returned by 12 horses.

The Referrals Committee did not believe there was evidence of deliberate doping but, in the absence of any other plausible explanation, had no option but to find Comer responsible for serious rule breaches and ordered that his licence should be withdrawn.

Fines totalling €85,000 were imposed and Comer was ordered to pay 80% of the IHRB’s legal costs, which amount to €755,000. The trainer is likely to have run up similar costs on his own side.

Believed to be a billionaire, Comer has owned racehorses since the late 1990s and he took out a trainer’s licence around 2000.

His success has been modest, given his resources and the large number of horses which run in his name.

He is not hands-on, because of his international business commitments, but has employed a team to train them in Kilternan, south Co Dublin. In 2017, following a series of run-ins with racing officials over the management of the stables, he appointed Jim Gorman as his assistant trainer.

It emerged during last year’s hearing that Comer Senior is out of the country for nine months of the year and the Referrals Committee suggested that the Licensing Committee looks into whether or not this is acceptable.