ANIMAL sanctuary boss John Warwick has spoken of his relief after he was spared an immediate prison sentence for breaching a ban on keeping animals.

The 55-year-old, who runs Swindon and District Animal Haven near Royal Wootton Bassett, was at Chippenham Magistrates Court yesterday for sentencing after pleading guilty in December to keeping animals despite a court order preventing him from doing so.

Magistrates gave him a three-month prison sentence, which was suspended for two years, 200 hours of unpaid work in the community, and also made an order allowing Wiltshire Council to take the animals from the haven.

Speaking after the case, John, of Toothill, said: “I want to thank everyone that has supported us. Because of the ruling that they have stated I can’t help out like I have been all these years.

“I was relieved the sentence was suspended. I took all my stuff with me expecting to get put in prison today. I had to say goodbye to my 11-year-old son because I thought I was going to get put down.”

When John appeared before Chippenham Magistrates in November 2011 he was banned from keeping farm animals for 10 years and domestic animals for four years.

It came after he admitted four offences of animal cruelty under the Animal Welfare Act, which related to pigs he kept at the family-owned Warwick Farm.

John said he had found new homes for all the animals ahead of the court case yesterday.

“We have to wait and see whether the sanctuary can continue being run by the other 47 volunteers but that is going to be down to them,” he said.

“I would love the sanctuary to carry on but it’s whether we can get people to give the commitment.”

Speaking in court, Amanda Slee, who was representing Wiltshire Council, said: “The defendant breached the bans from the day they were made. He continues to take in animals – rehoming and moving them.”

John, who was representing himself yesterday, broke down in tears as he tried to explain why he had breached the ban.

The court adjourned for an hour so a probation officer could produce a report on his behalf as he was too upset to continue.

Speaking in court, he said: “All we do is help people who have got problems. Most of the people we help don’t have anything.

“We take animals in from people with all sorts of problems – divorce, separation and house repossession.

“We rescue animals which have got nowhere else to go.”

As well as the suspended sentence, community order and order for the animals to be taken from the haven, the court also issued a warrant for Wiltshire Council to search John’s home in Toothill to check whether he was keeping animals apart from his six pets.

He was also ordered to pay £15 a week towards a £2,495 fine issued with the original ban.