A MOTHER and son left animals to starve to death at their £4.5 million estate in an “abhorrent” case of neglect.

RSPCA inspectors who visited Sheriff Hutton Park, at Sheriff Hutton, near York, found dead sheep in the coach house, dead cattle in an old swimming pool and other animals in so much pain that they had to be put down.

Some animals had been locked in a derelict building at the Grade I listed hall and left to starve.

Pamela Palmer, 70, had run up huge debts and the neglect was discovered only when bank representatives turned up to repossess the property.

They alerted the RSPCA, who brought charges against Mrs Palmer and her son, Joseph Palmer, 30. Both were yesterday banned for life from keeping animals and given suspended prison sentences.

The chairman of the magistrates, Hilary Gilbertson, said: “I think this will demonstrate the abhorrence of the public to the way you treated the animals in your care.”

Pamela Palmer pleaded guilty at Selby Magistrates Court to three counts of neglect after a Herefordshire bull and cow had to be destroyed due to their poor state of health. Five sheep were also said to have been starved to death after being locked in a derelict building.

Pamela Palmer, wearing a tweed jacket and walking with crutches, said: “I don’t think I am guilty, but I’m going to plead guilty.”

Joseph Palmer, of Rein Road, Wakefield, had been tried in his absence after failing to turn up at a previous hearing and was in court yesterday for sentencing with his mother.

She reportedly bought the hall in 1998 and spent £3.5 million on its restoration, buying 16 fireplaces at Sotheby’s and bringing in decorators who had worked for George Michael. But she ran into financial difficulties and bank representatives moved in last April to repossess the property.

Philip Brown, prosecuting on behalf of the RSPCA said bank officials discovered the two cows and dead sheep. The bull was examined and found to be lame and suffering from a severe case of arthritis of the hip. The animal was destroyed along with a cow which was suffering from a severe foot abscess and was unable to walk because of overgrown hooves.

Mr Brown said: “Sheep had been discovered in a building with one of the animals being found dead with its head in a wooden frame and one of the animals had been reduced to eating soil before it died.”

He said it appeared someone had attempted to burn a number of cattle carcasses or to bury them in a swimming pool which had been “turned into a slurry dump”.

The court heard inspectors had found 180 sheep and 70 cattle which appeared fit and well, although the RSPCA suspected they may have been looked after by local farmers and helpers.

They also found five cats in a filthy room at the mansion, along with horses, dogs, pigs and donkeys that appeared to be running wild.

In mitigation, the court heard the pair had been victims of a mystery terror campaign. Pamela Palmer said she had found headless sheep carcasses at her front door, and a horse had been stabbed and a flock of sheep stolen.

She was also said to be in debt to a “disreputable loan company” and paying back £35,000 a month.

Representing Pamela Palmer, Kate Raitt said her client had come from a long-standing farming family and kept livestock since she was 17. She said: “This is not a case of wilful neglect. The bull had been given pain killers and penicillin and they believed the care they had given was suitable.”

She also argued that the pair did not know the sheep had been locked in the derelict building and said the bodies may have been put there while the mortgage company came to repossess the estate.

After admitting three counts of neglect, Pamela Palmer, no fixed address, and her son were given 18-week sentences suspended for 12 months and banned from keeping livestock for the rest of their lives.

Pamela Palmer was banned for six months from entering Sheriff Hutton and ordered to pay £500 court costs, while her son was told to do 100 hours unpaid work and pay £1,000 costs.

Sheriff Hutton Hall was built as a hunting lodge for King James I and was remodelled in 1732. Pop star Robbie Williams is said to have stayed at the hall as a youngster, while it was a performing arts college.

It is now under new ownership.