Rolling Stone's wife threatens to sue stud over horse deaths
The future of one of Europe's oldest stud farms is in doubt after two horses belonging to the wife of Charlie Watts, the drummer of The Rolling Stones, died in rapid succession.
Shirley Watts withdrew her other horses last week from 199-year-old state-owned Janow Podlaski stud in eastern Poland after the death of two mares with a combined value of €570,000. Other wealthy owners may now follow suit.
Ms Watts has also threatened to sue the Polish government over the loss.
The deaths came just weeks after the government sacked the stud's director of 38 years and replaced him with an economist who admits to knowing little about horses.
Mr Watts and his wife of 52 years are among Britain's most high-profile horse breeders. Ms Watts regularly entertains buyers at her 600-acre Halsdon Arabians stud. The business is estimated to be worth around £10m (€12m). "I am going to sue them because of the way they treated my mares. They also kept me in the dark," Ms Watts told 'The Guardian'.
The Polish government sacked the management board of Janow Podlaski and fired Marek Trela, its director.
His replacement by Marek Skomorowski attracted the ire of influential figures in the Arabian horse breeding world, and prompted allegations that the government was putting its people in positions of authority in order to cement its hold on power.
The government has dismissed the accusations, citing a "lack of adequate supervision over the breeding and veterinary supervision of purebred Arabian horses at Janow Podlaski" as the reason for the sackings.
Krzysztof Jurgiel, the agriculture minister, has also accused people who "wanted to defend the old status quo" of smearing the reputation of the stud.
The government has, however, initiated a criminal investigation into the deaths of Ms Watts's horses. Mr Jurgiel said that to have two horses die so suddenly gave "reasonable grounds for suspicion" that the deaths were the "intentional acts of third parties".
Initial reports attribute one of the deaths to a twisted colon, but investigators have found traces of an antibiotic generally given to poultry in some horses' feed. Although scientists concluded the drug was not given in levels that were dangerous, it raised questions as to why the drug was even being given to horses.