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‘That level of evil cruelty is disturbing’ as judge blast brutal revenge stabbing of horse

'That level of evil cruelty is disturbing, and I cannot begin to imagine what that defenceless horse suffered'

A judge has repeated his disgust at the actions of a man who repeatedly denied stabbing a horse, only changing his plea at the eleventh hour.

Mark McGurk, a horse dealer who was bailed to Glenpark Road, Gortin while awaiting the case to be dealt with, is currently serving a prison term for sexual activity with a child.

The 23-year-old was on bail for the horse cruelty matter when he sexually assaulted the child, after a cocaine and alcohol binge at a birthday party on October 5, 2019.

Having previously been accused of rape, McGurk accepted a lesser sexual charge on the day his trial was to begin. While awaiting sentencing he was permitted a variation to his bail in order to accompany his girlfriend to her college formal in the Europa Hotel, Belfast.

On return to Dungannon Crown Court, McGurk’s barrister complained that press coverage of this caused “significant distress” but the judge retorted: “He is the author of his own misfortune.”

Ultimately jailed for 15 months, McGurk thereafter appeared before Dungannon Magistrates’ Court, via video-link, continually denying the horse stabbing charge, despite District Judge Michael Ranaghan describing the case as having no defence and repeatedly warning he would impose the maximum sentence available.

Numerous ‘final’ adjournments followed, and a contest was set to commence in March with a vet on standby to give evidence on the injuries sustained by the horse, which had to be put down.

Following further legal advice McGurk finally accepted deliberately causing unnecessary suffering to the horse on June 10, 2019.

The court heard police were advised of the horse being stabbed at premises in the Gortreagh Road of Cookstown and on arrival McGurk identified himself as the owner. Apart from claiming to have been drinking with a friend – Harry Evans – also a horse dealer – he didn’t fully engage with police at that stage.

An on-call vet was treating the horse and a number of puncture wounds were observed.

A knife was lying in the stable, which McGurk claimed Evans used “when he became agitated and started stabbing the horse”.

Police were told Evans may still be in the area but they found him at his Magherafelt home, where he showed them a video sent to him by McGurk, via Facebook.

The distressing footage clearly showed the horse being stabbed.

McGurk was arrested and interviewed, but with the exception of claiming to own the horse, thereafter made no comment.

A vet provided a report on the severity of the injuries, confirming the horse had to be put down.

McGurk’s defence barrister said: “[He] expresses guilt, shame and remorse, in the strongest possible terms. He was behaving erratically, unpredictably and irrationally at the time. He describes the act as a moment of madness and can give no other explanation. He got emergency assistance from a vet and tried to stop the bleeding.”

Asked why the attack was filmed, the defence said the two men had a disagreement to which Judge Ranaghan remarked: “I can’t see it as anything but revenge. Repeatedly stabbing that totally innocent animal which had the misfortune to be in the defendant’s care, was a profoundly evil act.

“I cannot begin to imagine the level of what that defenceless horse suffered involving extreme pain, fear and distress. One cut was very deep and probably caused its death. This wasn’t a moment of madness. It was at least four moments of madness. Blood was pooling around that defenceless animal’s feet. That level of evil cruelty is disturbing.”

McGurk was jailed for seven months which Judge Ranaghan ordered to be added to the sentence he is currently serving along with a seven year ban on owning any animal.

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