RSPCA chiefs fear middle class professionals such as doctors and dentists are betting on illegal cockfights, it emerged today.
They raised concerns about the growing trend after raiding two farms where inspectors found 500 birds including 97 mature fighting cocks.
Mark Giles and his son, also called Mark, have pleaded guilty to animal cruelty at the properties they ran in Billingshurst, west Sussex, and will be sentenced at Brighton magistrates this week.
During the swoops, inspectors reportedly discovered 60 pairs of lethal metal spurs, some an inch-long, which are attached to the birds’ feet and cause terrible injuries.
Vitamin supplements and empty steroid vials used to increase the birds’ strength and stamina were also found along with magazines which featured the elder Giles at competitions in Brazil and the Philippines.
RSPCA inspector Dave Long who led the raids, told the Sunday Times that groups of up to a dozen men would watch four-minute bouts between birds in cockfighting pits stained with blood.
He said: ‘This was a breeding farm specifically for fighting cocks but it was also used for others to come and test their own birds.
‘The people involved come from all walks of life, including people with respectable occupations such as doctors and dentists.’
The paper reported the growing popularity of ‘cockfighting chic’ and the revival of a ‘sport’ which was banned in England and Wales in 1835
Once, small groups of men in Britain and Ireland linked by a highly secretive network, would gather to pit their fighting cocks in a battle to the death, sometimes waging thousands of pounds on the result.
In America cockfighting is illegal, but has many devotees among professionals, including lawyers, police officers and doctors.
A source with links to field sports, told the Sunday Times that ‘five or six people’ he had spoken to in recent months had bought English cocks to fight.
He was quoted as saying: ‘It’s a kind of cockfighting chic. It seems to be a new trend. I haven’t come across it before.’