AN award-winning farmer left the carcasses of more than half his flock of sheep to rot in his fields, a court heard yesterday.

Derek Wearmouth had already failed to heed advice given over the disposal of dead livestock following an earlier inspection, Bishop Auckland magistrates were told yesterday.

Officials from Durham County Council were called to English Hill Farm at Forest-in-Teesdale, near Barnard Castle, in February after a complaint was made to the RSPCA about dead sheep on his land.

The 67-year-old was warned and given advice on how to dispose of the carcasses but, after a further complaint in June, more dead animals were discovered.

Stephen McGuinness, prosecuting, told the court that, according to Mr Wearmouth's records, he had 132 sheep in January last year.

He said: "On the two occasions, there were a total of 84 dead sheep found on the farm. That is 64 per cent of his flock."

Simon Catterall, defending, said his client had lived at English Hill Farm since the outbreak of the Second World War and had taken over the running of the farm from his parents.

He had enjoyed a long, distinguished career as a sheep breeder, and had a large collection of best in show rosettes and awards for his animals.

But last summer, Mr Wearmouth became seriously ill with heart and respiratory problems and work on the farm became too much for him.

Mr Catterall said: "He was really ill and was unable to give the flock the amount of time that they deserved.

"He found himself in a situation where many of his sheep had died and he could not physically bury them himself."

He said Mr Wearmouth had planned to retire at the beginning of 2001 but the foot-and-mouth crisis thwarted his plans. He now plans to retire later this year.

He was fined £200 and ordered to pay £150 costs after admitting ten charges of failing to dispose of sheep remains in a proper manner.

Presiding magistrate Sue Snowdon said: "We have seen from the prize-winning certificates that you have enjoyed a first-class reputation and you have lost that by appearing in court today. This is a very, very sad set of circumstances."