‘Killer’ badger diggers targeted


The RSPCA has said it will continue to gather evidence and prosecute men who dig out badgers and kill them.

It follows the convictions last week of two men for badger digging and other offences. They will be sentenced next month by magistrates at Shrewsbury.

An RSPCA inspector secretly filmed the men, from Lancashire and north Wales, digging at a sett near Whitchurch.

The video evidence was described as vital to the bringing the case to court and securing convictions.

Gerard Monk, 27, of Millbrook Close, Wheelton, Lancashire and 37-year-old Paul Billington of Llyndir Lane, Rossett, near Wrexham, north Wales, denied the offences, but were convicted after a two-day trial.

Forensic techniques

Statistics for the whole of England show that reports of badger digging and baiting have fallen over the past five years, but the number of convictions over the same period had gone from 4 in 2004 to 22 in 2008.

The charity is crediting the use of new forensic techniques and the increased use of covert filming for the increase in convictions.

In the case of a man from Lancashire who was convicted in 2006 of digging badgers at a sett on the Shropshire-Staffordshire border, a forensic scientist helped match pollen from one of the offender’s spades to the sett.

DNA kits which can be used at suspected crime scenes also help to identify different animals much more quickly.

Ch Insp Ian Briggs of the RSPCA’s Special Operations Unit said he was delighted that the two men had been convicted at Shrewsbury Crown Court last week.

“The operation behind this case took some eight months in total, a lot of time, a lot of man hours and a lot of effort by the RSPCA.” he said.

“ It’s a total bloodsport – their thinking behind it is totally alien to most normal people ”
Ch Insp Ian Briggs RSPCA

He said officers had been watching one of the men in his home area in Lancashire.

Information had led them to a badgers’ sett at Pond Wood, near Ashford Grange Farm at Whitchurch.

An undercover inspector filmed the men as they dug into the sett. They left when they realised the were being filmed, but were arrested later.

Ch Insp Briggs said the film had been an important part of the prosecution.

“Obviously that video evidence has proved crucial for the magistrates to highlight the clandestine nature of the organisation behind organised badger digging,” he said.

‘Kill anything’

He said the motivation of the gangs involved was that they liked killing and gained kudos from the performance of their dogs as they fought with the badgers.

“It’s a total bloodsport. Their thinking behind it is totally alien to most normal people.

“These people, if they are not out killing badgers, they just like to kill anything, whether it’s deer, rabbits, fox, but badger provides the biggest challenge to them and their dogs.” he said.

Ch Insp Briggs explained that badger digging involved disturbing setts and either killing the animals there and then, or taking them away to be used for badger baiting.

Participants bet on the outcome of the fight between the dog and the badger.

He said baiting was much less common: “Being caught in possession of a live badger is an indicator of what they are up to, so they tend not to do it.

“They tend to dig into the set and just kill the badgers in situ.”

Farmers intimidated

He described how the gangs would contact each other, often using the internet and arrange to meet up, travelling the country will the sole purpose of digging out badgers.

Some landowners reported suspected badger diggers to the RSPCA, but others were too scared to say anything.

“Some farmers obviously get intimidated by the gangs and obviously feel they can’t report it to the police because of the threats they receive,” he said.

The RSPCA has pledged to continue the battle against the badger digging and baiting gangs and has seen its conviction rate rise.

“That’s because we’ve put a lot of effort into these cases. The planning behind them is very meticulous and we have a very good prosecutions department who review all evidence before any case is submitted.” said Ch Insp Briggs.

“These organised gangs are going week in, week out and doing what they do. The RSPCA will proactively investigate it will react to incidents that occur.”

http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/1/hi/england/shropshire/8125055.stm

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