A 24-year-old man whose careless driving resulted in a horse being euthanised has been given a suspended sentence.

Alex Cole, of Ross-on-Wye, left the scene of the collision near Newent and torched his vehicle in a bid to hide his involvement.

The incident happened around 4pm on 7 March last year when Cole's Vauxhall Astra van collided with the rear of a horse which was on a hack in the village of Clifford's Mesne.

Gloucester Crown Court was told that the rider, a 19-year-old woman, was thrown off the horse into a hedge and then landed in the road.

Her injured horse, Chunk, described as well-behaved and good with traffic, initially bolted.

The horse soon returned and was then transported to stables where a vet attended, however he had sustained a fractured pelvis and was euthanised.

Minutes after the collision Cole drove to Judge's Lane nearby and used fuel, which was already in his vehicle, to set fire to it.

He then called police at 6.19pm the same day to say his vehicle had been stolen by a man who was interested in buying it for scrap.

Cole, who is of Bartwood Lane, Pontshill in Ross-on-Wye, was arrested three days later and during his first interview continued with his lie that the vehicle had been stolen.

Several days later he then made arrangements to be re-interviewed and admitted he was the driver.

He said that the collision happened due to the glare from the sun and not being able to see properly. Judge Ian Lawrie KC did not accept that Cole was temporarily blinded.

In the incident the rider sustained a bruised knee, hip and elbow. She also had a spinal fracture, which she is still recovering from, which was discovered in an MRI scan at a later date.

The court was told in a hearing yesterday (Wednesday 16 August) that the woman is having therapy, has panic attacks and has given up riding as she could not go out hacking again.

The victim's mother told the court: "It's completely changed her life in that she had a potential riding career which has now ended. She's lost her best friend and she's lost her passion, so her life has changed forever."

A statement from the victim, which was read in court, said: "Emotionally I have been all over the place. Since the loss of Chunk I have days where I am in tears. I've had days where I'm happy to see pictures of him and then I just break down. Some days I'm so angry, I don't know why or what to do.

"I'm angry at the driver of the Vauxhall and I can also just be short when anything that doesn't go my way. This isn't normal for me as I normally have a happy positive outlook on life.

"I know these are likely to be the stages of grief and will likely get easier in time, but I can't help feeling this may never come back fully as Chunk was a huge part of my life and was my source of happiness."

Cole's defence barrister said that Cole, who is of previous good character, had shown remorse and came to his senses after realising the stupidity of his actions, which were described as being an act of sheer panic and blind stupidity.

He was due to stand trial at Gloucester Crown Court on 12 July, however on the first day pleaded guilty to perverting the course of justice, careless driving and failing to stop at a collision.

Judge Lawrie KC said to Cole that it would have been blindingly obvious that he had hit a horse and that he was cowardly and showed heartless disregard for the victim and her horse.

For perverting the course of justice he was sentenced to 13 months, suspended for 18 months, ordered to do 250 hours of unpaid work and to pay £1,500 in costs and a £156 surcharge, to be paid within 28 days.

Cole was given six points on his licence and a £2,500 fine for careless driving, and no separate penalty for failing to stop at the scene.

Following sentencing, PC Rob Bolland from the Specialist Operations Unit, said: "Pets are part of the family and Cole's careless driving led to a much-loved horse being euthanised. The impact of what happened that day and the loss of the horse has been huge for the victim and her family.

"There's no excuse for leaving the scene of an incident, especially one as serious as this, and it's a serious offence to then take steps to try and cover your tracks.

"No sentence will bring Chunk back for the family and my thoughts are with them while the victim continues with her physical and psychological recovery."